Magazine article Phi Kappa Phi Forum

My Freshman Year: What a Professor Learned by Becoming a Student

Magazine article Phi Kappa Phi Forum

My Freshman Year: What a Professor Learned by Becoming a Student

Article excerpt

Rebekah Nathan. My Freshman Year: What a Professor Learned by Becoming a Student. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2005. 186 pages. $24.00.

My Freshman Year is a student's-eye view of the college experience at the beginning of the twenty-first century. Rebekah Nathan (all names, including the author's, are pseudonyms) uses participant observation, interviews, and focus groups to take us into the dorms, the group projects, and the 100-seat classrooms to offer a greater understanding of how contemporary social, economic, and political realities shape the current college experience. [The author has since been identified publicly as Professor Cathy Small of Northern Arizona University; see the notice on page 40--Ed.] Nathan provides practical insights for making the college experience more user-friendly from an administrative perspective and more effective from a faculty perspective.

My Freshman Year offers two somewhat opposed and yet realistically simultaneous realities of student culture. First, the author holds a mirror to older generations by nesting her discussion in prior studies of college life. The focus on youth--fun, freedom, spontaneity, and rebellion--is nothing new. Typologies of students are also consistent across time as the student body is comprised of a largely monolithic student culture with some consistent outsider subcultures always present--goths, granolas, and geeks. These typologies may change in their particularities but represent consistent patterns of in-group and outsider characteristics. At the same time, today's college students experience a distinctive college culture that reflects broader shifts in society. The simultaneity of the democratization of college education and the democratization of consumption means that most college students work for pay. Students contribute to the bills associated with college attendance or work to maintain or acquire a particular material lifestyle.

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Colleges constructed around communal spaces for communication, entertainment, and schoolwork seem odd in an age in which many students have cars on campus, carry cell phones, have televisions in their dorm rooms and apartments, own personal computers, and spend their time living and working off campus. Changes in technology and consumption patterns change the functions of social spaces on college campuses and of the college experience itself.

Nathan argues that the contemporary university is "overoptioned" as students have myriad choices for how to spend their time. …

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