When it comes to upperclassman insults, nothing stings quite as much as the phrase “you’re acting like a freshman.” Alternatively, no compliment is quite so rewarding to first year students as the glorious remark “I thought you were a sophomore.”
Our society, for reasons unknown, has come to the conclusion that class year, along with corresponding experience and age, somehow determines someone’s worth. Youth and inexperience has become a stigma summed up perfectly in the shameful label “freshman.” We criticize our fellow students that fall under this category even as we ourselves have only recently escaped the disgrace of the freshmen classification.
We faced it first in high school: the hazing, the insults, the feeling that we’d never be accepted by the big kids – only to rejoice as sophomores to finally have the right to shake our heads with disgust, roll our eyes, and sigh “freshmen…” with exasperation any time one of the first years revealed their ignorance or displayed a tendency toward the juvenile.
It’s no different in college. Rid of the insecurities of being new ourselves, we adopt a cynicism toward those that are, torturing them with both our unwillingness to associate with them and our patronizing attitude employed when interaction is unavoidable.
And why? Do we criticize infants for not knowing how to walk or two year olds for being illiterate? Do we find five-year-olds worthy of contempt for finding joy in bedtime stories or eight-year-olds for playing make-believe?
The things that freshmen are so often chastised for are the markers of their inexperience and state of social development. They don’t know social protocol or how the logistics of university life work because they haven’t been taught. They enjoy incessant partying because it’s an exciting and new opportunity, a way of meeting new people and securing a social life. It’s something they have not yet outgrown.
It is during freshman year that students can use the most help from those with more experience. Nevertheless, it is the also time that is hardest to secure helpful guidance from older peers.
As freshmen, we are grateful when we meet the uncommon upperclassman that is willing to share their wisdom and treat us as individuals rather than mere pieces of a large and indistinguishable mass of annoyance. As time passes, we regard these heroic mentors with fondness, thankful for their intervention in our younger days. But for some reason, even as we recognize the admirability of these kind souls, finding it within ourselves to follow their example is nearly impossible.
Overcoming this difficulty, however, is imperative for helping freshmen to move past their freshman ways. Sure, they’d probably figure out the tunnel system eventually, and anyone’s bound to tire of going to the frats every weekend after a while. But in the mean time, upperclassman should do all they can to aid their young fellow students in the process of acclimating to their new lives and maturing into well-adjusted college students.
Freshmen should not be criticized for being freshmen,  even when they live up to the stereotypes. They have as much a right as those that come before them to embrace the freshman experience in all its wonder and should be able to do so without worrying about the ramifications of living up to the negative expectations of upperclassmen.
Maturity does not, as a rule, correspond with age. “Freshman” does not necessitate obnoxiousness much in the same way that “senior” does not automatically entail a sophisticated character. Everyone deserves the chance to prove themselves in the eyes of others without misgivings about class year getting in the way. Do we really want to support a social hierarchy that tells us otherwise?



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