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Author investigates student life

This year’s summer reading book presents the challenges student’s face as freshmen


This year’s freshmen summer reading book told the typical first year of college life from an anthropological perspective. Entitled My Freshman Year: What a Professor Learned by Becoming a Student, the book is a study conducted by a university professor who enrolled as a freshman at her own college—without telling anyone her identity.

The book is anonymous. The author’s name, Rebekah Nathan, is a pseudonym, and the university the book centers around is appropriately renamed “AnyU”, lending to the book’s overall feel that Nathan’s study could have taken place in any modern university.

AnyU is a large public university, and Nathan is able to enroll in the freshman class without anyone knowing her occupation as a cultural anthropologist and professor. Despite being around fifty, she lives in a dormitory, took freshman level classes, and befriends other incoming students.

In many ways, the book is successful. Nathan writes some things about college that are true anywhere—including Rollins College. She delves into issues surrounding dorm life, relationships, and participation. Nathan puts together interesting studies on why certain things are put on bulletin boards around campus, how international students relate to Americans, and how diversity plays a role on campus. The concept of the book is fascinating, as is looking at a college campus from a completely different perspective—someone who has been both an administrator and a teacher.

Despite this, the book has its drawbacks. Much of the book is spent confirming other anthropologists’ studies, and the overall “anthropological” feel of the book made certain parts of it dry. These places might have been more interesting with personal stories and examples from her experience added in. For example, she briefly mentions failing a class and revealing her identity to several other people. She eventually expounds on these experiences at the end of the book, but her details might have been better placed to get readers through dry chapters that contained lots of numbers and facts. Though this might be the way anthropology studies are usually written, Nathan could have included more personal information throughout the book to make it more readable.

Nathan’s study also took place in the early 2000’s. Though this is still relatively recent, the book is slightly outdated and does not address some controversial issues of today’s colleges, including the use of technology—such as laptops, Facebook, and cell phones—in the classroom. Many of the other topics she chose to address (like dorm life or bulletin boards) have been part of the general college experience for many years, and will continue to be for many more years, giving the book a bit of a timeless and placeless feel. Though not always engaging, My Freshman Year is a thought-provoking look at a typical fist-year’s life from a new perspective.

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