Leinster House was not the only place in Dublin yesterday to offer some political entertainment. Trinity’s internal politics proved to be equally as compelling for a variety of reasons.
Firstly, it was announced that the term used to describe first and second-year students, “freshman”, is to be scrapped and replaced with the gender-neutral “fresh”. Secondly, a prank email was sent from an account imitating that of the President of Trinity College Dublin Students’ Union (TCDSU), Kevin Keane, which ridiculed the announcement. Finally, in his response to the email, Keane said he has referred the benign prank email to the Junior Dean for being “transphobic and infantile”. Who ever said politics was boring?
National media outlets jumped at the news that Ireland’s oldest university is to abandon the traditional term “freshman” and replace it with “fresh”. In an email sent to students, Vice-Provost Chris Morash and Keane explained that “this small but important change will ensure that all Trinity students are equally included by the language used to describe them; be they male, female or of another gender identity” and described it as “a concrete expression of the university’s commitment to gender equality”.
Rather, it is the ridiculousness of what “freshman” is being changed to that has caused such a negative response
Undoubtedly, it is a positive thing that Trinity is trying to promote gender equality. Yesterday’s announcement, however, has been widely ridiculed.
Indeed, my first reaction – like most, I assume – was to roll my eyes and mumble some protestations about Trinity conforming to a pedantic form of identity politics. After some reflection, it became apparent that this change doesn’t negatively impact students’ lives in any way. Very few people complain about the degendering of the word “chairman” or the use of “actor” to encompass all sexes, after all. Rather, it is the ridiculousness of what “freshman” is being changed to that has caused such a negative response.
Surely the Equality Committee could have come up with some more imaginative suggestions than “fresh”? The vast majority of British universities, for example, officially refer to year groups as “First Year”, “Second Year”, etc. And even if the committee didn’t offer better solutions, you would think that Morash and others would recognise that simply dropping the suffix “man” from “freshman” is a farcical thing to do, bound to be met with derision.
The follow-up email sent to students today from Morash and Keane is an acknowledgement of the overwhelmingly negative reaction to the announcement. The email explained that “‘fresh’ is intended to be used as an adjective in context, e.g. ‘Junior Fresh student’” – it really doesn’t make it sound any better.
I would challenge the union’s president to point out how, in any way, the content of this email could be construed as transphobic
For those still annoyed about the “hyper political correctness” of the whole situation, they would be better off complaining about Keane flippantly calling a prank email sent from a fake account imitating his own “transphobic”. The text of the email stated: “Just kidding, this is for real. Instead of lobbying for <€1000/month student accommodation or some fucking microwaves, I succeeded in getting college to remove the ‘man’ from ‘freshman’. #impeach”
I would challenge the union’s president to point out how, in any way, the content of this email could be construed as transphobic. It is an absurd claim to make. Is he implying that anyone who disagrees with the change from “freshman” to “fresh” is a transphobe? If so, it is worrying that a person in his position is so unwilling to recognise that others might hold legitimate opposing views.
Trinity is right in trying to make the university more inclusive for every member of its community. The degendering of words has become commonplace in western societies in recent years in an attempt to place everyone on an equal footing. It is only a small act, but it is symbolic and doesn’t take away a significant amount of time or resources from other pursuits.
That said, College must also address more fundamental issues when it comes to gender inequality, such as last week’s announcement that the Provost has only appointed eight women out of a total of 46 to his advisory council if it is to be a serious proponent of fairness and equality.
Trinity is right in trying to make the university more inclusive for every member of its community
Despite good intentions, College should seriously reconsider its chosen term to replace “freshman”. “Fresh” is not only a word used colloquially but also sounds absurd. If the change is to be widely accepted and Trinity is to save itself from embarrassment, “Junior Fresh student” cannot become a reality.