How To Treat Freshmen

My pal, Fr Rich Andre pointed me to this piece of history from 1495 in Leipzig.

“Statute Forbidding Any One to Annoy or Unduly Injure the Freshmen. Each and every one attached to this university is forbidden to offend with insult, torment, harass, drench with water or urine, throw on or defile with dust or any filth, mock by whistling, cry at them with a terrifying voice, or dare to molest in any way whatsoever physically or severely, any, who are called freshmen, in the market, streets, courts, colleges and living houses, or any place whatsoever, and particularly in the present college, when they have entered in order to matriculate or are leaving after matriculation.”

Leipzig University Statute (1495)

Yikes! The sad thing to realize is that they probably had to put this on the books because someone had actually done this!

And we thought modern hazing was bad.

I just spent a week or so with freshmen and a bunch have been stopping by for work study applications and just a general hello. Yesterday was the first day of classes and I imagine today will be the first day of overwhelming feelings. Indeed there will be a lot to do over the course of the year. I feel more anxiety for the freshmen this year than I have before as a Campus Minister for some reason. Perhaps it’s because I know Canisius expects much of their students. But then, I also recall that it’s up to those of us who support students to make sure that they FEEL supported, that they know they can seek us out when they are struggling. After all, we want them back here for another year so we get to be in relationship with them again and the faculty get to educate them again for another year as well.

Some wisdom from my own past:

I was the first in my family to go to college (at least in the traditional sense–my older sister returned to college as an adult and began taking part-time classes a few years before I began). I was very nervous and feared really screwing this opportunity up. I was so afraid that I didn’t want anyone else to know how afraid or how much pressure I was under.

So I hid.

I didn’t take advantage of many of the opportunities that were available to me, academically. I barely went to the library. And I didn’t choose my major with any true sense of discernment. I really didn’t know how to study, nor did I know how to manage my time all that well either. I spent far too much time in the radio station and too little time reading.

That said, I got by. I’m a smart guy and was able to do well enough to get my degree. I did pretty well as a Sophomore. I made my share of mistakes as a first time manager at the radio station. I got an internship at the biggest all sports radio station in the country and they eventually hired me to work there 3 days after I graduated–the only three days of my life that I have ever been unemployed.

But it wasn’t until I went back to Graduate School that I really began to appreciate the value of learning. It wasn’t until 10 years after I received my first degree that I really appreciated the value of education. It indeed is a privilege to be educated, to learn from others who have mastered this material and now pass on that knowledge to you.

I was an excellent graduate student. I enjoyed every minute of being in class with colleagues and my professors for the most part really engaged us with the materials. I was clearly more interested in the material as well and did lots of extra reading and more importantly I asked a lot more questions and got a lot more help from professors and the university. I revised and published my Master’s Thesis which was the genesis of this blog.

So dear freshmen, I look to you today and say the following: You are beloved. We want you to be with us and engage with us in conversation that can stimulate your minds and challenge you to think and become critical of the world around you. You are our hope for not the future, but the present. It is our hope that you will see what we have not seen and uncover what is to be discovered about so many things.

But in order to do that you must become studious and you cannot do this alone. Never again will you have an entire institution dedicated to you. So take advantage of all the people here that want to help you and want you to be successful. That’s good for us as well as for yourself. You are the future that Canisius hopes to profess. You are the legacy that we invest in now. And the faculty and staff here are dedicated to your learning, your maturity, your development.

One of my goals for each student I come to know is that they will be able to articulate their own spiritual experience. “Just who is this God that I have come to know? How do I see God in all things? How can I deeply reflect upon my experiences so that I might know what my deepest desires are and how might I find a mentor to help me look at that experience more deeply and less superficially. You are adults and your spiritual experience needs to reflect that just as much as your brick and mortar academic knowledge in any of the disciplines you come to develop an expertise in.

You are our students. And we are Canisius.

Now get out there and knock ’em alive!

And most of all don’t let anybody “offend with insult, torment, harass, drench with water or urine, throw on or defile with dust or any filth, mock by whistling, cry at (you) with a terrifying voice, or dare to molest in any way whatsoever physically or severely, you or any, who are called freshmen.”

Or they’ll have to answer to me.

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