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Freshman Revisited

By Paul Molloy

A lot of talk has been made of the board’s decision to introduce a gender-neutral term for the first and second year cohorts of the college. I have no doubt all the jokes have been made of the term at this point that any attempt to make a pun about me offering a fresh perspective probably also runs the risk of being quite stale. Indeed, I have heard more jokes over the past few days about the word fresh that it amazes me how broad the scale of that humour can be.

A drive for gender neutrality when it comes to the language the college uses is laudable, and should be supported. However, the manner which the Board chose to take regarding this is something which appeared to have not been made with great consideration. I am sure I, like many other students, were confused as to the manner which the Board chose to put that decision into practice. If you are going to choose to replace the word freshman, why not just change the word? The first thing that immediately sprung to my head was why this wasn’t the case when many different straightforward options were before them, such as Junior and Senior Reader. This was soon followed by ‘why am I wondering what we should call first and second year students?’ After all, the answer seems apparent.

Such a change is something which seems to me to be so much more straightforward and easy. I am sure it also must have been aware to the board such a change would be far more grammatically sensible. Indeed, the only real logic that was apparent to me from the choice of word was its marketability to the Fresh chain if they were being courted to replace Aramark by the Commercial Revenue Unit.

It was this lack of foresight which in many ways betrays an issue far more endemic in the College. In many places, the issues which are the least impactful are the ones most highlighted, while the ones most pressing are far too often ignored. The seemingly haphazard manner with which this was handled itself shines a light this issue. The choice of word as well as the presentation of the policy by the board both detracted from the message. Instead of triggering a discussion on gender equality in courses or the biases ingrained in student life when it comes to gender, it instead led to a discourse which devalued the change and decried it as one which was a symbolic gesture made without a second thought.

“The issues which are the least impactful are the ones most highlighted, while the ones most pressing are far too often ignored.”

The SU is a body which is widely acknowledged for its progressive ideals, yet even here the flaws of this lack of consideration and the appearance of such an attitude is one which can be seen. The arts block student space is one of the few seating areas for students on the campus and one of the most public achievements by the SU during my time here. It is also itself referred to by the SU in Irish in a gendered way as mac léinn instead of daltaí. I trust this was not something the Students Union did intentionally, nor do I consider it a sign that the SU is sexist or filled with prejudice. I do consider it, however, a sign of how easily overlooked these things can be by those who themselves care about them the most.

It is this ease of action and the appearance of a lack of foresight which delegitimises in the public eye pressure to move towards greater equality and measures which aim to do so. This fact is one, which those who consider themselves progressives ought to be mindful of. The victory gained by such an action does not overshadow the harm inflicted. Those who seek to build a more inclusive Trinity have more pressing victories to gain. Whether this be more broadly in terms of student fees or gender balance on college courses, or whether it be more particular when it comes to cuts in funding vital student services or the lack of gender balances on the Provosts Council, equality and inclusivity on campus are all too often major barriers in student life. They are ones which ought to be considered with the seriousness that they deserve.

There are real issues which are faced be students on campus. Whether this be disability rights or socio-economic mobility there are many steps the college can take when it comes to these issues. By focusing on issues such as what we call first year of second year students, and by doing so with such a lack of foresight, progressive ideals run the risk of being devalued in the eyes of the general public.


Originally published 1.12.17 in Vol. 1 No. 1.


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