Little fresher LYDIA MORRIS-JONES reveals the bitchy bullying that is inflicted on new arrivals.
So I’m a fresher, yes, and I won’t let any inbred, fenland hick make me feel awkward about that.
Although if truth be told, after my initial vodka-fuelled flourish of bravura, I have been subject to just a touch more status anxiety than usual. Before landing in this hotbed of intellectualism famed for its blue boars and apostles I was at school (which I left, oh, all of a year ago). At school, there was something of an established hierarchy based on nothing more sophisticated than year-groups: the smaller the number described in your form title, the more like pondlife you are reckoned to be – not so much pupils as pupae. It has occurred to me that things are not quite so different at university, even if we all congratulate ourselves on being ‘so over’ the trivialities of the playground.
It would seem that, as a fresher, you are forgiven for peeing in a bouncer’s bicycle helmet at Fez but not for showing up at an even vaguely “exclusive” house party which at the very least only edgy second years should have even heard about let alone be invited to. Envisage the scene, if you will:
Me: “Hi! How are you? Very nice to see you. Are you enjoying yourself?”
Non-fresher: “Oh hi. Yeah, it’s so fun. Nice to see you too. So…. Like…. How do you know Joe…? Were you, like, invited?!”
“No, pet,” I think. “I just tend show up at strangers’ houses out of a shameless sense of entitlement,” but out loud I say: “I was invited yes.”
Non-fresher (perhaps reading An Obscure European Language and occasionally dabbling in the ADC, though considering herself more a post-ironic-neo-bohemian than an outright thespian): “Oh cool, yeah, Joe and I go way back; he was sick in my pigeonhole when we were freshers. God I can’t believe what twats we were then! So how do you know Joe? Did you meet him at Cindies or something? Wait – [hushed tones adopted] are you guys Getting-Off?! [yells to nearest fellow non-fresher] Oh my god, Joe has pulled a fresher!! Ha! He is so funny, that is SO Joe!”.
Me: “Uh well no, actually, I shared baths with Joe as a toddler. See, he’s my god-brother. Our siblinghood has been ordained by God.”
There are a number of scenarios similar to this, not to mention a debate with my college father (we have since reconciled) which actually culminated in him roaring: “What do YOU know about Marxism, Fresher?!” I can’t help feeling that there are a million things about me that would be worth highlighting as to why my argument about Marxism might not be valid (for example, the fact that I know absolutely nothing about Marxism…) but the fact I am a lowly first year is not one of them. Classic “freshism” yet again; a basic prejudice based on petty condescension with little reasoning behind it.
At school (which I left ages ago), the younger girls were expected to hold the door open for the older ones. Some might think this backward but I could sort-of appreciate that there is a considerable difference between an eleven-year old and, say, a seventeen-year old. I mean, the seventeener might well be about to sit an AS-Level upon which acceptance to their university of choice is contingent while the elevener has to colour in oxbow lakes for geography prep.
Yet I am not sure there is necessarily as profound a difference between a nineteen-year old and a 23-year old. As a fresher myself I was prepared to take a certain amount of intellectual flack. After all, freshers really are quite funny. They are generally speaking (even more) full of the kind of embarrassing faux-ideologies and potentially nervous-breakdown-inducing aspirations than the rest of the student body. They are pretty fair game. And yet “freshism” is not about a friendly if slightly provocative rib-dig at a group of inevitably naive young adults. It is about a very real resentment towards the new kids on the well-established, alumni-embossed block.