(WOMENSENEWS)–As colleges and universities have been welcoming new students over the past few weeks, some have also been adopting the welcome practice of dropping the term freshman.
It’s increasingly viewed as a sexist term that implies young men are the norm among those beginning the college trajectory. And freshmen are not only 18 years old anymore.
University campuses have become more diversified over the years as more non-traditionally aged students, returning parents and second-career professionals return to complete or begin their degree.
It’s time to do away with the word freshman.
Where I work, Texas Woman’s University, a school of 15,000 students in Denton, Texas, the incoming class of 2018 are now called "first-year students." The change is already reflected in written materials and was used during the new student orientations over the summer.
Some of the first colleges to make this more gender inclusive change did so in the late 1990s.
More recently, colleges who made this change received backlash regarding changing old world tradition.
In 2012, the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill was criticized highly for making this change. Critics said it was "feminism gone awry," "political correctness" or "unproductive." The change occurred quietly in 2009. Only through an ABC news report did it become more common knowledge and hence the backlash.
Changes leading to more gender-inclusive language are many times met with dissent and discomfort. For instance, initial changes from chairman to chairperson, fireman to firefighter and mankind to humankind were met with negative feelings.
Easy Replacement Words
There are still many other words that are gendered and can be modified with simple changes. For example, it is commonly said to "man the table" when one is working a table event. A simple modification would be to say "staff the table."
An additional example is the commonly used phrase "rule of thumb." Most do not know the h(er)storical origins of the use of this phrase being the rule of law that dictated that men were not allowed to beat their wives with sticks larger than the width of their thumb. A simple modification can be to say the "principle or standard."
More schools need to get rid of the word freshman.
In general, university campuses have become much more diversified over the years. Throughout the nation, the ratio of males and females has consistently evolved as well as the ethnic and racial makeup of students.
Texas Woman’s University, a university predominantly for women, was started as the Girls Industrial College in 1901. Due to pressure from the public, it began admitting male students to all programs in 1994. Today, the percentage of male students is usually between 8 to 10 percent.
And we like that gender diversity at Texas Woman’s University.
Our student population is more than 45 percent racially and ethnically diverse. Additionally, the average age of students is typically late 20s, quite different from most universities, with 15 percent of students enrolled at Texas Woman’s University in 2013 over the age of 40.
For many years, Texas Woman’s University’s students and professionals desired the word "freshman" be replaced with another term, particularly at a university predominantly for women.
Although some may say this is too politically correct, language makes an impact and it’s important. First-year student is a more appropriate, representative expression for a diverse student population. It also conveys that the university recognizes and values the diversity of students.