Earlier today an email was circulated throughout Trinity College. It announced that the board of the university had “approved a proposal from the Equality Committee that the title given to first- and second-year undergraduate students be changed from “Freshman” to the gender-neutral term “Fresh”. This change was to ensure that all students felt “equally included” in the college, and reinforce the university’s “commitment to gender equality”.
The announcement comes on the heels of an increase in postgraduate fees and the appointment of 8 women to the Provost’s 46-member Council, a ratio which prompted backlash from within the college community. In this context, it becomes difficult not to see the “fresh” email as a truly awful attempt at firefighting by the college hierarchy. There is a definite sentiment among students that the college administration would be better served dealing with the myriad of serious issues plaguing the university, rather than issuing edicts on technicalities of grammar.
Any decree from authority that language must be changed should be viewed with the height of suspicion, but the term freshman is a particularly inoffensive one to target. It calls to mind the old joke; “why is it history, what about herstory?” On Trinity’s campus, satire has become a reality.
Even if one is fervently passionate about the systemic sexism of English grammar (we suggest you find a new hobby if you are), the choice of the word “fresh” as a replacement is genuinely laughable. One definition of the word in the Cambridge dictionary is “being too confident and showing no respect, or showing by your actions or words that you want to have sex with someone”. If it was the intention of the board to label freshers as promiscuous miscreants then perhaps this is a really good joke (and it did cause many laughs) but it’s time to end the gag. If that wasn’t their intention, then this is an embarrassing episode for the board and reinforces just how out of touch they are with their student body.
Finally, this fiasco shows the damage that having an unrepresentative body in charge of our university can cause. Admittedly this seems on the surface a hilarious event, and it is. Under the surface, however, there is a more serious current. Anybody who has paid attention to American and British campuses knows how divisive a campus environment can become when fringe factions influence policy. With this email Trinity admin are seeking to enshrine a worldview that only a small minority support. The people responsible for this will not stop at dictating our language use. It’s all fun and games and tagging each other now, but if the mainstream doesn’t start speaking up, we may end up in a place we’d rather not be.