Freshmen, Fresh People and First-Year Students

Recently, the college that my youngest daughter ultimately ended up attending invited her to join them at Accepted Students Day. For those who have not had the pleasure of shepherding a teenager through the college selection process, it’s something that has to be experienced to be appreciated; not unlike being stricken with a chapped ass. Adding to the delights of the process in this case was the realization – or more accurately, the confirmation – that our colleges and universities have lost their collective minds.

 The purpose of Accepted Students Day, as you might suspect, is to give the prospective new scholars and their parents an idea of what to expect if they decide to attend that particular school. “You’re going to love it here! The food is great! We’ve got tremendous school spirit! It’s going to cost you a small fortune, woohoo!” I had been through several such orientations before, so I had a pretty good idea of what to expect. Or so I thought. Throughout various speeches and discussions that day, I repeatedly heard incoming students referred to as “first year students”. Initially it didn’t register with me that it was a concerted effort. But at some point I decided to take note of the references, and began to listen closely for anyone using the word “freshmen”, and indeed my concerns were validated; not once did I hear the term. It was clearly an orchestrated scheme, a conspiracy! A few weeks later, I mentioned my observations to a college professor that I know who works at a different school, and he confirmed my suspicions: the switch from “freshmen” to “first year students” was implemented at his school as well, and it was due to their effort to be politically correct. Or to quote him directly, “to be more inclusive”. He also explained that the new term was borrowed – quite happily, apparently – from the Harry Potter books by JK Rowling. As a fan of the series, I am usually enthusiastic about inserting expressions used at Hogwarts into our daily lexicon. But to do it in this way, for this purpose… oh no. We muggles are in big trouble.   

 Let’s consider the reality of the situation, and the consequences. Most of us over the age of seventeen have been referred to by that dreaded label (gasp!) “freshman” at some point, and this includes that same daughter, who was a proud freshman, as I recall, when she was a fourteen year-old entering high school. Someone, or some group, obviously thought it was a good idea to implement the change. It is quite possible, probable in fact, that my daughter’s university took the lead from a different school. A sort of twisted, striving-for-victimhood domino effect. And while it is also possible that the idea stemmed from a complaint from an over-sensitive student somewhere, it is just as likely that some do-gooder somewhere came up with the idea all on their own. Could someone, anyone, truly be offended by the word “freshman”? Or, to use the language of my professor friend, if the term “first year student” is more inclusive, then the term “freshman” must be less inclusive. So, did anyone prior to the change feel unincluded? (Yes, I know that “unincluded” is not a real word because spell check just told me so, but maybe it should be; using “excluded” just won’t do). Somehow, my mother was able to make it through that awkward school year many years ago being called a freshman, and I am pretty certain that she didn’t feel unincluded. Same for my wife and sister. Same for all of my female friends. Yet somehow, the political correctness gang feels the need to fix something that doesn’t need fixing.

Since I am not an expert on the evolution of the word “freshman”, I can only assume that at some point many years ago, combining the separate words “fresh” and “man” was determined to be the best way to label such students. I am also willing to concede that the use of the word “man” most likely had a gender element to it. History shows that it wasn’t until the nineteenth century that advanced degrees for women became a realistic and viable option, which would validate the idea that the term originated to describe male students; fair enough. It must also be pointed out, however, that the word “man” has always had multiple meanings, one of which is “humanity as a whole”. In other words, Man = People.  When Neil Armstrong spoke those unforgettable words, “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind,” he wasn’t unincluding half of the people on the planet. It was clear that he meant to include all of humanity, men and women, and anyone with an ounce of common sense understood that fact and took no exception to his choice of words. Just a few years ago, that astute philosopher from our northern neighbors, the esteemed Justin Trudeau, Prime Minister of Canada, derided an audience member –a female audience member, no less – during a Q&A session for using the word “mankind”. “We like to say peoplekind, not necessarily mankind,” Trudeau corrected her. Pandering at its worst. Offensiveness in search of offended. It’s interesting to note that academia did not settle on the more gradual option of using the term “freshpeople” instead. Apparently the word “freshman” is so egregious that they felt that a clean break was necessary, or perhaps the word “fresh” is somehow offensive or uninclusive. Remarkable. So, what to do?

The Left, particularly those leftists in academia, are attacking our language, and the evidence is everywhere. In case you were unaware, using the phrase “long time, no see” is insulting to Native Americans. Who knew? Using the words “crazy”, “thug” and “lame” are also off-limits, and could possibly be a trigger for one oppressed group or another. Come to think of it, how much longer will it be before the word “trigger” is unacceptable? It can only be a matter of time. Control the language, and you control the debate. Language is powerful.  It is how we communicate and is the most important aspect of the culture that connects us. We all come from different backgrounds, but we share the same language, or at least most of us do. Therefore, changing language enables them to change the culture.

Not all is lost, however, as we see increasing push back on such attempts. Using the greeting of “Merry Christmas” was deemed offensive not too long ago, but it seems clear that resistance to that effort has worked. I hear more people using the phrase in recent years, and many people like myself go out of our way to use it during that time of year; and that is what must happen. We shouldn’t look to insult people, but we cannot kowtow to the PC Police. Politeness is a good thing, but this is ridiculous. Political correctness is not only annoying, it is dangerous. Accepting the notion that the word “crazy” is offensive is, well, crazy. The world is not kind. In fact, one might say it’s a jungle out there, and developing thick skin is important if you want to survive it. Therefore, the next time someone objects to the use of a harmless word such as “guys” as having triggered them, the compassionate thing to do is this: coach them to toughen up. Get over it. You, we, none of us have the right not to be offended, and encouraging someone – particularly younger people – to think otherwise is doing them a great disservice. It is time to stop the insanity.

PF Whalen

Published by PF Whalen

American. Christian. Blogger.