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Classes of students (#1027)

Topics/tags: Grinnell, short

Sometime in the distant past, a parent on the Grinnell Parents Facebook page asked about the terms we use for students. It went something like this.

I like the terms 1st year, 2nd year, etc. instead of freshman, sophomore, etc. Does anyone know how those got started?

I don’t know when they got started, but I like to claim that there are reasons that we use them.

We use first-year student instead of freshman because freshman is a gendered term. Some schools use frosh, which is less gendered, but somehow feels more insulting. I’ve tried to suggest that we use freshling, which I find conveys their appropriate similarity to ducklings.

We use second-year student instead of sophomore because sophomore is potentially an insulting term (wise fool, if I recall correctly). I’ve been known to suggest that using that term to only one year of Grinnell students is inappropriately limiting [1].

We use third-year student instead of junior because junior suggests that they are below someone or less worthy of consideration. I appear unable to come up with witticisms about this term.

We use senior for our seniors. I’m not sure why we don’t continue the trend and just call them fourth-year students.

We used a similar set of terms at the University of Chicago when I was an undergraduate. But I recall a very different rationale. Mine went like this:

So few students graduate from Chicago in four years that it seems inappropriate to use only four terms. Students are therefore first-years, second-years, third-years, fourth-years, and so on and so forth until they reach their final year, which we call their senior year.

Of course, that claim doesn’t explain Cobb Gate. We’ll leave that issue as a challenge for the reader [2].

Rumor also had it that if you walked on the great seal in the front entrance of Reynolds Club, you would not graduate in four years.

It worked for me. I was never a third-year [3].

Postscript: That’s an idea! As long as we’re adding stonework to Grinnell, perhaps we should add an equivalent to Cobb Gate. But we could do an Iowa twist on it, perhaps with ears of corn or pioneers (or pies on ears) instead of gargoyles.

[1] Yes, I intend that as a joke. The freshlings thing, not so much.

[2] Or the subject of a future musing.

[3] I know; I’m a braggart. I also wanted to save money. And, since I had been accepted to remain for graduate school, I expected that I could take the same classes as a graduate student and be paid, rather than staying as an undergraduate, and pay.

Version 1.0 of 2020-02-25.