Nation & World

Citing gender neutrality, Massachusetts high school drops the word ‘freshmen’

The Department of Education is investigating whether a school’s transgender-friendly bathroom policy was a factor in the alleged sexual assault of a 5-year-old student in a Decatur, Georgia elementary school.
The Department of Education is investigating whether a school’s transgender-friendly bathroom policy was a factor in the alleged sexual assault of a 5-year-old student in a Decatur, Georgia elementary school. AP

A public high school in Massachusetts is asking students to stop using the word “freshmen.”

Easthampton High School will transition the official language to “first year students” and ask students to use that phrase, WWLP reported Thursday. The decision came after a school’s Gender and Sexuality Alliance Group recommended the school handbook use gender-neutral language.

Free speech rights still reign, and students may continue to use the word “freshman” if desired, Easthampton Superintendent Nancy Follansbee said in a statement.

The story sparked discussion on WWLP’s Facebook page, where it picked up over 700 comments. The comments with the most likes all contained negative reactions. “Did someone's feelings get hurt or offended.... Get over it.. Pathetic!!” one user commented. “We are becoming such a HORRIBLY sensitive group of idiots,” another remarked.

Some were more welcoming to the change. “The evolution of language is good, healthy, and to be expected,” one woman wrote.

The trend toward gender-neutral phrasing has been gaining more momentum at the collegiate level.

  • A 2009 guide written by a University of South Carolina student noted the evolving terminology found on campus, citing three examples: “Student Personnel vs. Student Affairs,” “Dorm vs. Residence Hall” and “Freshman vs. First-Year Student.”
  • University of North Carolina made the change from “freshman” to “first-year student” in 2012, receiving a good degree of backlash, the Huffington Post reported.
  • Yale formally dropped “freshman” this September.
  • Trinity College Dublin in Ireland last month decided to phase out “freshman” in favor of “fresh.” The university newspaper called the term “ridiculous.”

Gender inclusiveness has sparked debate over the past couple of years, particularly on the topic of gender-neutral restrooms. Those came to UC Davis last March, The Bee reported.

Easthampton’s student newspaper, the Easthampton Eagle, has its online edition available to the public. While no story has specifically addressed the decision or student reaction on that campus, an opinion story published Dec. 8 carried the title “A Day in The Life of a First Year Student.”

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