You were a freshman once, too

%22When+we+were+newbies+at+college%2C+we+might+have+encountered+mean+upperclassmen+giving+us+a+hard+time+or+looking+down+on+us.%22+%2F+Illustration+by+Ally+Rzesa

“When we were newbies at college, we might have encountered mean upperclassmen giving us a hard time or looking down on us.” / Illustration by Ally Rzesa

By Frances Hui

On the first day of classes this year, after I sprinted from the Park Street Station to the Walker Building, I took the stairs to avoid the long line for the elevator. To my right, two students pushed the door on the floor to the stairwell and said something like, “Ugh, freshmen.”

I went to the door and saw a girl with her student ID and dorm key hanging on her neck, looking at her phone, and pacing back and forth. She was in my way—in everyone’s way, but she seemed lost. So I offered to help her and realized she was looking for a classroom hidden in the corner. She struggled to speak with me in English because, I assume, it wasn’t her first language. I guided her on her way and then went to my class. 

This kind of interaction isn’t just a one-time case. I hear people complaining about freshmen everywhere these days, no matter where I am—in the Dining Center, the stairs, the Boylston-Tremont intersection, and even the library. I have always heard unpleasant upperclassmen complaining about how freshmen make everything around campus worse.

Even though freshmen are new to the campus, upperclassmen expect them to figure things out on their own. “They should know” is usually how the complaints start. “They should know they can’t bring in a guest into the dorm without signing them in” or “They should know VMA stands for visual and media arts.” 

We know these rules or acronyms because we have been here for at least a year. But freshmen are, by name, fresh—they are new to this environment, and they should not be expected to know everything. 

Get This Week's News

All the big stories delivered to your inbox every Thursday morning 

Not only do they have to learn all these new terms and rules, but they also have to fit into the college’s culture. 

Most college environments, including Emerson’s, emphasize the importance of student organizations heavily. While this culture is one of the very important parts of Emerson’s life and a big selling point of our school, it can make students feel the urge to join as many groups as possible just to meet people and prove they can handle it. It seems like a choice between getting involved or just being alone for the entire academic year. 

But this whole process is exhausting. Coming to a new, strange environment, and absorbing that kind of information all at once is overwhelming, and we’ve all been through that. 

It is common for freshmen to overwork themselves in a college environment, leading to school stress. According to research published by the American Psychological Association last year, one in three college freshmen is affected by mental illness. 

Meanwhile, underclassmen are mostly positive and excited about starting at a new school and meeting new friends. But sometimes it contradicts the calmness of upperclassmen who know most of the goods and bads of the school and maybe are tired of their college life already. Therefore, in upperclassmen’s perspectives, freshmen might look like annoying babies coming from another world who always ask stupid questions. 

But we were all once a freshman. We know how it feels to arrive in a new city, a new environment, and start a new stage of life—it’s refreshing, a bit overwhelming, but still amazing. And we probably have once been frustrated when we popped into different communities and found it difficult to fit in. Maybe at that moment in time, we all hoped for a caring and understanding peer to guide us into a new campus life. 

For some of us, when we were newbies at college, we might have encountered mean upperclassmen giving us a hard time or looking down on us. And after being the bottom of the food chain for a year, we just wanted to climb up to the top and do the same thing to younger students as what the older did to us; it perpetuates a vicious cycle that cultivates a negative environment. 

If we put ourselves into their shoes, it might be easier to remind ourselves these people are the same as we were, and are looking for the same kind of understanding we had longed for when we were starting out. Freshmen should not be looked down on or be seen as the bottom of the food chain. They are just younger and sometimes a tad more passionate—and their innocence perhaps might remind us of the enthusiasm we used to have.  

Even though you might want to ignore an objection from a freshman, you should probably listen to the advice from a senior, like me, who was a freshman three years ago. I was curious about my new surroundings and struggled to fit into the U.S. culture. 

Looking back to the time when I first arrived in Seattle as a freshman in my last college, I wish the upperclassmen would have been nicer to me when I asked them where things are and how things work. Although I have never been a freshman at Emerson, transferring as a junior allowed me to recognize the problem with the “freshman” label—I was a newcomer just like them. 

Show your support for essential student journalism

News and the truth are under constant attack in our current moment, just when they are needed the most. The Beacon’s quality, fact-based accounting of historic events has never mattered more, and our editorial independence is of paramount importance. We believe journalism is a public good that should be available to all regardless of one’s ability to pay for it. But we can not continue to do this without you. Every little bit, whether big or small, helps fund our vital work — now and in the future.