Campus News

Anthropologist studies college freshmen

My Freshman Year: What a Professor Learned by Becoming a Student
Rebekah Nathan
Cornell University Press
$24 (cloth)

“Going native” for Rebekah Nathan, an anthropologist and ethnographer, used to mean living in remote village locations, learning new languages and customs, interviewing and befriending locals, and writing about her experiences.

But after 15 years of teaching, Nathan—who uses a pseudonym and calls her university “AnyU”—felt disconnected from her students, and confounded by their lack of ambition and occasional outright rudeness. To find out what was at the heart of their behavior, she “went native” again —but this time, it meant enrolling at her own university as a college freshman, living in a dorm, eating in the student cafeteria, playing pick-up games of volleyball and, more often than not, being mistaken for someone’s middle-aged mother.

And, as an ethnographer, she wrote about it all in My Freshman Year: What a Professor Learned by Becoming a Student. By interviewing and befriending the “locals” and filtering her observations through national data on college life, -Nathan reveals a fresh perspective on today’s challenges for modern student —which have changed since her original college years, she notes—as well as cultural issues surrounding higher education.