Amid growing calls for greater gender inclusivity on campus, Yale College administrators are moving to replace the term “freshman” with the gender-neutral term “first-year.”
Dean of Student Affairs Camille Lizarríbar, who is leading the conversation about the potential change, told the News that while administrators are committed to the shift, there is no fixed timeline or specific plan for its implementation. However, Lizarríbar said she hopes that the language change will be implemented “before the next academic year.”
“I think there comes a time when you want to make sure that the way you’re calling things reflects the values that you have,” Lizarríbar said. “If we really are serious about inclusivity and diversity, we need to look at everything. It’s not written in stone that it has to be ‘freshman.’ … We do have some agency in what we call things.”
Lizarríbar said replacing the term “freshman” is something administrators have been thinking about for some time, adding that several peer institutions, such as Dartmouth, Cornell and Amherst have already made the move.
Yale College Dean Jonathan Holloway said concerns over the term “freshman” are not new. For as long as he can remember, Holloway said, parents and students have occasionally expressed frustrations about the term being gender-specific. According to Holloway, the conversation over replacing the term has picked up steam recently due to Lizarríbar, who recently celebrated her one-year anniversary in the deanship.
“I will confess it’s not something I spent a lot of time thinking about, recognizing yes, it’s an antiquated term, but it just wasn’t part of my daily routine [of] thinking about what things need to be taken care of,” Holloway said. “But Dean Lizarríbar, who oversees freshman or first-year orientation … basically said ‘it’s time,’ and I have no problem with that.”
Students interviewed expressed mixed reactions to the potential change. Some said they saw the change as a necessary step toward greater gender inclusivity on campus, while others argued that the word “freshman” bears little significance to students, and replacing it would not solve problems of gender bias.
Vicki Beizer ’18, the public relations coordinator for the Women’s Center, said that while the center understands the motives behind replacing the term “freshman,” calling it “gendered,” the language change is not a pressing concern.
“There are a lot of fights to be had about representation on this campus, and we don’t think the benefit of changing [‘freshman’] to ‘first-year’ is really that substantive,” Beizer said.
Isaac Amend ’17, a member of Trans@Yale — a community for nonbinary and transgender students — said that while he does not think that the term “freshman” has a negative emotional impact on students, replacing it with “first-year” would be a positive symbolic move.
“The administration should be doing everything it can do to make sure that every student feels included in regular identifiers that people use [among] the undergraduate student body,” Amend said. “So, while I’m not emotionally impacted by the term ‘freshman,’ I would more than welcome the change to ‘first-year.’”
Amend, a staff columnist for the News, added that the change is particularly important under the current federal administration, which he called toxic to transgender students in an earlier interview. Earlier this month, President Donald Trump rescinded Obama-era federal guidelines specifying that transgender students have the right to use public school restrooms that match their gender identity.
Abby Dutton ’17 said she supports the potential change, adding that students in her high school were encouraged to use the term “first-year” rather than “freshman” because the latter was considered to be gendered terminology.
Dutton, who served as a leader for Yale’s Freshman Outdoor Orientation Trips -program, said changing the term would better include first-year transfer students who attend preorientation programs like FOOT. According to Dutton, the transfer students who attend do not exactly classify as freshmen, although they are beginning their first years at Yale.
“I’d totally embrace ‘first-year’ because we do serve first-year students, not only recent high school graduates who happen to be starting their first of four years,” Dutton said.
And Aadit Vyas ’20 said the language change would be a “fair move,” but cautioned that it would take some time for the term “first-year” to become commonplace among members of the student body.
Yale College first admitted women in 1968.
Hailey Fuchs contributed reporting.