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Lewis Will Not Support Change to 'First-Year'

By Amy M. Rabinowitz

Dean of the College Harry R. Lewis '68 declined yesterday to endorse an Undergraduate Council proposal to replace all official uses of the term "freshman" with "first-year."

Under the first application of the council's Nelson-Grimmelmann Act under which Lewis has been given the right to endorse council proposals, Lewis did not kill the proposal, but Council President Robert M. Hyman '98 said that without the dean's support the resolution cannot become Harvard policy.

The proposal's supporters claimed such changes are necessary to establish a more comfortable environment for women at Harvard.

"This move would be a small, symbolic step toward gender equality at Harvard," Hyman said.

The council's proposal also points out that other universities and colleges have adopted this revision, including Columbia, Williams, Bowdoin, Bates and Trinity.

In a lengthy letter to the council, Lewis explained why he did not endorse the resolution. He said he believes the term "first-year" is awkward and suggested such a change might trivialize the gender issue on campus.

"I may be wrong," he wrote, "but I do not think that in its normal pronunciation this word is generally identified as masculine at Harvard."

But Lewis said he would he would prefer the use of another term for "freshman" if "there were a grammatically convenient and linguistically graceful alternative."

While he acknowledged that he does not believe that Harvard's environment for women is "perfect by any means," he said he does not feel this change in language would be a meaningful one.

In an effort to determine whether women on campus find the term "freshman" offensive, Lewis said he conducted a small, informal survey among female deans and faculty. He said he did not find a consensus that such a replacement would help women on campus.

According to Lewis, one female professor with whom he spoke replied, "What a non-issue!"

In his letter to the council, Lewis said, "I would prefer to save my political capital for initiatives of more substantive importance to the community."

The sponsor of the bill, Lamelle D. Rawlins '99, disagreed with this view.

"Obviously students and administrators are coming from different places on this issue," she said. She added that she thought the difference of opinion might be due to a generation gap.

Rawlins agreed with Lewis that the resolution does not cover a wide number of issues but said for that reason it should be easy to make the recommended change.

"It's not a big issue, and that is exactly our point," said Rawlins. "Replacing the term freshman with first-year is a small step to raising the comfort level for women on campus, and I don't see how that can that be detrimental."

Dean of Radcliffe Philippa Bovet said the change from "freshman" to "first-year" is not trivial.

"As language evolves, we must find ways to make it non-discriminatory," she said.

Bovet said she uses the phrase "first-year" in daily conversation and noted that most Radcliffe publications use the term as well.

But Bovet said she respects Lewis' decision. According to Bovet, Radcliffe will continue to accept the term "freshman" until the University makes an official change.

Despite his refusal to endorse the council resolution, Lewis did suggest that a "working group" be formed to discuss gender issues at Harvard, including the issue of the phrase "freshman."

Rawlins said she hopes to continue to work with Lewis in the future regarding gender issues, and added that she would look forward to participating in such a working group.

Hyman said the council is planning to issue a formal response to Lewis' decision at its next meeting. He also said he soon hopes to bring a proposal before Radcliffe President Linda S. Wilson that similar changes to be made at Radcliffe

In an effort to determine whether women on campus find the term "freshman" offensive, Lewis said he conducted a small, informal survey among female deans and faculty. He said he did not find a consensus that such a replacement would help women on campus.

According to Lewis, one female professor with whom he spoke replied, "What a non-issue!"

In his letter to the council, Lewis said, "I would prefer to save my political capital for initiatives of more substantive importance to the community."

The sponsor of the bill, Lamelle D. Rawlins '99, disagreed with this view.

"Obviously students and administrators are coming from different places on this issue," she said. She added that she thought the difference of opinion might be due to a generation gap.

Rawlins agreed with Lewis that the resolution does not cover a wide number of issues but said for that reason it should be easy to make the recommended change.

"It's not a big issue, and that is exactly our point," said Rawlins. "Replacing the term freshman with first-year is a small step to raising the comfort level for women on campus, and I don't see how that can that be detrimental."

Dean of Radcliffe Philippa Bovet said the change from "freshman" to "first-year" is not trivial.

"As language evolves, we must find ways to make it non-discriminatory," she said.

Bovet said she uses the phrase "first-year" in daily conversation and noted that most Radcliffe publications use the term as well.

But Bovet said she respects Lewis' decision. According to Bovet, Radcliffe will continue to accept the term "freshman" until the University makes an official change.

Despite his refusal to endorse the council resolution, Lewis did suggest that a "working group" be formed to discuss gender issues at Harvard, including the issue of the phrase "freshman."

Rawlins said she hopes to continue to work with Lewis in the future regarding gender issues, and added that she would look forward to participating in such a working group.

Hyman said the council is planning to issue a formal response to Lewis' decision at its next meeting. He also said he soon hopes to bring a proposal before Radcliffe President Linda S. Wilson that similar changes to be made at Radcliffe

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