Be Nice to Freshmen

Be nice to freshmen.

Yes, I know how frustrating it is to encounter a new group of freshmen defying all the cultural norms we’ve established on campus, but my directive still stands. Even if they haven’t claimed this campus as long as we have, they’re just as much a part of this campus as we are. Though clouded by cluelessness and potential anxiety, freshmen enthusiasm is refreshing and has the potential to warm our cold, upperclassmen hearts and remind us of why we love our school if we give them a chance.

Be honest with yourself – you were just as lost when you arrived. You wore your lanyard daily and sported a nervous, overeager smile at times. It’s not like we all showed up and knew all the rules, but we all had upperclassmen to help us along.

As a freshman, I needed the unexpected but ultimately appreciated advice to take off my stupid lanyard and put it in my pocket. I needed a reminder to step out of my comfort zone and venture beyond the giant unit of fearful freshmen, and I needed to ask a lot of dumb questions.

We’re all a little guilty of judging freshmen – myself included. I’m big enough to admit that I’ve broken my advice and lamented annoying freshmen behavior around campus. At the beginning of the fall semester, they’re at their most naïve stage, and I’ve often asked my friends from freshmen year, “Wow, were we really like that?”

Questions like that certainly aren’t the nicest, but they’re also the key to realizing why we should support freshmen as they begin their new college lives.

Next time you see a freshman visibly nervous and overwhelmed, think back to your own first year. Undoubtedly, you’ve felt just like they do now. Now, consider how different that moment would have been if an upperclassman had been empathetic.

I still remember my first time crying in college. I was overwhelmed by my new environment and missed the familiarity of home, and after years of basing my self-worth on academic performance, I was terrified of failing to live up to my own expectations. I was reading a section of my Biology 1010 syllabus detailing our upcoming research project. At the time, it seemed like an insurmountable task to produce a quality, professional paper that would be worthy of a college assignment. I had just gotten off the phone with my parents where I’d divulged these fears, though I’d projected confidence that I would make it through. Now off the phone and sitting in a study room, that confidence was faltering. And right there, I cried.

I cried in public – which I hate doing – and prayed that the few people in the room would just pretend this annoying freshman wasn’t crying and continue whatever they were doing. Several did, but there was one exception. A senior walked over to me and told me it would be alright. He told me that, as a microbiology major, he’d been through this experience and gone on to thrive in the environment once intimidated us all. He assured me that I would make it through.

And he was right.

That reminder encouraged me to approach that assignment with certainty that I would succeed, and ultimately, I got an A on that assignment and in the course.

I haven’t spoken to this senior in over a year. He didn’t become a best friend, but he didn’t need to. He was a stranger who gave me solid, reassuring advice when I needed it.

I was a terrified freshman who just needed one person to tell me that I would be okay. I needed someone to acknowledge that, though I definitely had the stereotypical freshmen behavior that gave us all a bad name, I was a member of the Clemson family.

Today, I am a junior who is very different from the freshman that first stepped foot on this campus. I found my major, my community, and myself – all things I was searching for during my first year. I picked up a few tricks along the way and began to appreciate all the cultural norms that differentiate lowerclassmen and upperclassmen. Even if I sometimes cringe at my freshman self, I know she had to exist to get to where I am.

Now, it is my turn to be that helpful, supportive upperclassman. Quite frankly, I think it’s your turn, too.

So, go out and be nice to a freshman today. I promise, their lanyards don’t bite.