A Lukewarm Welcome to the Freshmen Class


     As we welcome the Class of 2025 into the Upper School this Fall, I would like to take some time to review the notorious issue of freshmen bullying, teasing, guidance, or whatever you’d prefer to call it. We’ve all heard stories of freshmen being yelled at or perhaps forcefully elbowed as they congest the hallways in herds. Some of us may have even experienced these aggressions firsthand when we first stepped into WT Upper School in our freshman year. Historically, seniors, juniors, and sophomores have welcomed the opportunity to rough up the wide-eyed freshmen, but after years of accepting this social norm, I believe it’s time to reflect on it. Is it worth it? Do these nervous, new freshmen deserve teasing from older students? To answer my questions, I set out to ask some current WT students what they thought of the practice.

     When I tracked down a current senior and presented them with my dilemma, they were more than willing to help me out. The first piece of feedback I received from this senior was that the term “bullying” should not be associated with how the freshmen are treated. They argued that the term dramatizes the amount of playful taunting that they actually receive. This current senior continued on by adding that this upperclassmen tradition should still stand. However, there is no need for bullying, only light-hearted teasing. With this new information, I set off to speak to a current WT junior.

     After talking to not one, but two WT juniors who agreed that there should be no “hazing,” or “bullying,”  I decided that the official term for the tradition from here on out should be “teasing.” Like the senior I had talked to, these upperclassmen agreed that the freshmen deserve a little teasing. One of these two juniors added that morally, this might not be right, but it is in fact a part of the high school experience. 

     I was beginning to see a pattern in the answers I was receiving, so I continued on to talk to a sophomore, pretty confident that I would be receiving the same answer. However, when I began talking to the aforementioned underclassmen, I got my first divergent response. This sophomore argued that freshmen shouldn’t be bullied. “High school is scary, especially the first year,” they said. They told me that personally, they didn’t feel picked on as a freshman last year and that they believed that no freshmen should feel that way ever. I agreed with this sophomore on their first point, as I didn’t see last year’s freshmen get picked on last year. Surprised by this new perspective, I set off to pick out my last interviewee. 

     As I finished my trek to the bottom of WT’s social ladder, I found a pleasant freshman to interview. I was most fascinated to know whether or not a freshman thought that they should endure the traditional lighthearted teasing of high school. First, when I asked them if they were scared for the school year or whether they anticipated any taunting, they told me that no, they weren’t afraid. However, they were in fact more scared of their fellow freshmen peers than the upperclassmen. To answer my question, they concluded that, no, freshmen shouldn’t be teased. I cannot say that I was surprised by this answer, as I’m not aware of anyone that would want to inflict incessant mocking on them and their classmates. 

     Even after talking to all of these people, I felt that there was something missing. I needed a wise, experienced perspective, and I knew just where to find it. I needed a now graduated, former WT student. When I secured my interview and sat them down to ask them about their opinions on the age-old practice of freshman bullying and where they thought freshmen stood in the Upper School’s social hierarchy, I received an expected answer. They said that the freshmen teasing should continue, yet no one should be singled out. The entire freshman class should have to endure this lighthearted teasing. But then, I was given the interesting, juicy take I had been looking for throughout this process. They added that sophomores shouldn’t join the upperclassmen in this teasing, insisting that sophomores are just “older freshmen.” Even furthering their point, adding, “Sophomores are like if a pre-teen pretended to be an adult.” This former student, who endured freshmen bullying themselves, declared that sophomores arguably are worse than freshmen. This was shocking to me, as I had never heard that perspective before.

     So after all of my interviews and sleepless nights mulling this phenomenon over, I think I have come to a partial conclusion. Freshmen “teasing” should still stand. However, this excludes any bullying, harassment, violence, etc. I also think that due to my last interviewee’s opinion, it is time to raise two new questions. Should sophomores be teased as well? Are they in fact, as bad as, or even worse than the freshmen?