A cultural anthropologist – professor at a university, female, in her 50s – realized that she no longer understood the students entering her university. Her formative theory base was to focus on the student population at her university. She did not wish, however, to conduct a study from the professor-student perspective. After much consideration and discussion with colleagues she enrolled at her university as an incoming first time-freshmen (FTF) student.
Rebekah Nathan, pseudonym, had spent most of her professional life living oversees studying a remote village studying a culture foreign to her. After more than 15 years of university teaching, students had become increasing confusing to her. She questioned why students never stopped by to see her during office hours; how students used class time to eat full meals; many did not take notes during lectures; students took naps during class. She audited two courses and saw how by simply “acting” like a student gave her an in with students. They no longer addressed her in the same manner as would be the case of the students knew she was a professor auditing a class. She mentions the work of Michael Moffatt, who conducted research at Rutgers University between 1977 and 1987 and wrote an ethnography about the experience. Rebekah hoped to bring a new light to this topic which included a woman’s point-of-view. She applied for admission in the spring of 2002. After being admitted, she received – as all freshmen did – and invitation to attend a two-day Preview session, an orientation to college. She began to realize how difficult it was to be a freshman in a completely new environment and how stressful, and time consuming it can all be. Dorms. The tiny rooms I must live in my first two years depending on the school, they usually tend to be on average 12 x 19 feet. Simply put that is tiny, and I have a lot of stuff to say the least it is amazing how much “stuff” a student can pack into this tiny space. Nathan (2004)“In addition to articles like mine, they had joysticks, couches, mountain bikes, ski and sports equipment, guitars and keyboards, large and elaborate sound systems, multiple – layered electronics shelves holding TV’s, VCR’s, DVD players, refrigerators, tables, cabinets, floor and pole lamps, overstuffed throw pillows, as well as coffeemakers, slow cookers, and illegal sandwich grills”.( p. 19). To say the least that’s a lot of “stuff”. “Each room contained two single beds, a small sink and mirror, a large built – in armored, and a double desk running the width of the room with multiple drawers and bookshelves, but almost all residents add creatively to the available storage space”. (Nathan, 2004, p. 20). My dorm will clearly reflect me, when I move, I think I will enjoy living in a dorm. Dorms I believe are a fun way to connect with someone new, and to learn to be independent. But there is so much more to college besides just living in a dorm.
Besides living in dorms going to classes, parties, etc. There are other things I can do as a freshman. Most people think that most students go to classes then just relax the rest of the day but that’s not the case for a good portion of students. According to Nathan (2004) “In total, two – thirds of all students were working, including 54 percent of the first – year students and 88 percent of seniors. Nationally, full – time students worked an average of ten hours per week”. (p.34). Many students involve themselves with work and clubs. The importance of academics versus the overall college experience is an overriding theme. Nathan illustrates this in discussions on cheating (what is considered cheating and what is not) and students’ attitudes towards classes and professors. Nathan examines the students over the community and diversity at AnyU. At the beginning of the chapter, Rebekah realizes that instead of wanting to be a part of the community, many of the new students want to keep more to themselves and interact with a few select people. She first observed this practice when the RA set up a bi-weekly activity called “Movie Night.” Although many students promised to go, only two students showed up for the first movie, and on the second no one showed up. The RA later canceled “Movie Night.” Shortly after these events occurred, the RA scheduled another meeting with students and came up with “rules” to encourage interaction between everyone located in the same hall. One shouldn’t be too surprised to discover that none of these “rules” were practiced much. Rebekah noted that 76% of college and university presidents felt that non-participation was a problem on campuses. Less than 10% of college students are in a fraternity or a sorority. Some of the students mention to Rebekah they felt it was unneeded to devote so much time to one organization.
Rebekah also noted that when students selected friends, it was usually by the same ethnicity or gender. Other reasons may have been because of religious views. An important thing to note is that students were more interested in becoming friends with a small group of people, rather than being open to a lot of new people. Many of the students like to be an individual, and not “conform” or be part of a crowd. While sometimes this isn’t a bad thing, it leads to some students feeling alienated. Through her observations, both in class and in conversations with students, Nathan finds that students value the college experience more than the actual course work; most students feel they learn more outside of class than through their coursework. No one discussed how much they liked a class, the assignment given or the reading criteria for the weekend. She mostly heard complaints about the class or what the assignments were given. Outside of class she realized that mainly what discussions happen in the classroom, stay in the classroom. To study further, she decided to make a survey for her dorm by posting a question in the women’s bathroom, “What topics do you talk about, late night, with friends?” She received anonymous answers like, “Everything under the sun,” and “What don’t we talk about?” The most frequent tops were relationships, body image, entertainment and drugs and alcohol. She found that less the 5% of topic discussions were about school and career and less than 2% were talked about teachers, but mainly the hot or evil ones. Conclusion: the academic part of college wasn’t all that important. She realized the personal and social world was more interesting to them. College, according to students, is more than how well you do in classes. It’s also about the things you learn along the way. A poll she posted stated 65% of students learned more outside of class then they had in class. According to the girls on her floor, “College is about the fun, friendships, partying, life experiences and late-night talks. And the classes are a small price one has to pay.” Nathan stated during her experience that (Nathan, 2004, p.34) “Many Students who spoke with me viewed clubs and community work with this same eye for career”. (p.34. According to Nathan (2004) “The classrooms, which seat about one hundred people, are tiered lecture halls with chairs that are fixed in place. Students don’t generally know the names of more than a few others in the class”. (p.90). I think this is partially true because it all depends on the college I choose to go to; some classes may be smaller than fifteen per room. But the portion of this quote I think is true that all freshman will experience is the fact none of us will know each other the first few times, or for the entire time of taking the class. According to Nathan “In the end, the paths taken by higher education may be out of all our hands, but understanding our stake in these messages, as students and teachers, and making those stakes known, is our only chance of affecting the way the story of the modern university will unfold” .(Nathan, 2004, p.156)
In chapter seven Nathan summed up the information that she learned from being a freshman at anyU. She answers many questions about what she personally learned from the experience. She realizes how much teachers don’t realize what it is like to be a student and how much homework a student has in each class. She notices that a student finds many shortcuts around different assignments in order to find time to do other things they need to do. For example if a student needs to read a five-page article and there will only be a discussion in class on it with no quiz included, it is likely that the student will not take the time to read it. For Nathan going back to school taught her things she needs to understand more about a student’s life and teachers tricks to making a student’s life simpler and easier.
Overall, Nathan admits that she gained a lot of mysterious and foreign knowledge she never would have known before deciding to become a freshman again. Throughout the book Nathan makes interesting observations that range from how students schedule classes to the topics on residence halls bulletin boards and student doors. Overall My Freshman Year is a very interesting look at how today’s students maneuver and manage their college careers. Some of Nathan’s findings may seem self-evident to those that work with students daily, but her method and insight provide a tangible and substantive understanding of those things’ students may not share freely. Her experiences gives evidence to the Symbolic Interaction-ism theory she now knows not only the hardships but what no one else even thinks about in this astonishing book.