The grade divide

The Dart explores how perception influences the interactions between freshmen and seniors and how these relationships impact students now and for years to come.

April 20, 2016

story by Torie Richardson and Madi Winfield

From a survey of 191 STA students, 81.6% of 51 freshmen and 86.4% of 44 seniors see the relationship between the two grades as neutral or negative. Freshman survey respondents say the seniors “openly talk about how annoying freshmen are” and “tend not to treat freshmen with respect,” while senior respondents call the freshmen “rude,” “disrespectful,” and “cocky.” Where does this negativity stem from?

According to senior Hayley Burgess, the relationship between the grades is best described as “hostile.”

“I don’t want to speak for all of [the freshmen], of course, but… there’s just kind of a weird lack of respect,” Burgess said.

Burgess considers many of the freshmen she knows “very polite and very nice,” but said she has heard stories from other seniors who have had a much different experience with the freshman class.

“I’ve just heard about freshmen cussing at people, freshmen texting seniors and saying rude things,” Burgess said. “ Just a lack of, not even seniority respect, but just morality. That’s just a mean thing to do.”

Burgess attributes the main problem between the freshmen and seniors to behavior, but freshman Katie Gregory believes the problem has more to do with attitude.

“It’s kind of complicated because I definitely think some people have a seniority complex,” Gregory said. “[This] can definitely be frustrating because it’s like, ‘You don’t even know me and you’re making all these assumptions. It’s frustrating to… be accused of starting Twitter fights and being mean to the Sion girls and all these inappropriate and even illegal things.”

Senior Savaria Goodman is unsure about the origin of such rumors, but deems them irrelevant to the way the freshmen should be treated and believes that seniors should express more empathy in their treatment of lower grades.

“It could be [seniors] judging based on who they were as a freshman,” Goodman said. “I don’t know, but I feel like it really shouldn’t matter. I mean, we all party a time or two so why would that matter? … At the end of the day we’re all here to be sisters. It is a sisterhood, you know? There’s no need to be the evil stepsister.”

At the end of the day we’re all here to be sisters. It is a sisterhood, you know? There’s no need to be the evil stepsister.”

— Savaria Goodman, senior

Gregory agrees the actions of a few freshmen should not determine the way their class is viewed. Rumor and misunderstanding, she said, lead to a lack of communication and further misunderstanding.

“A fair amount of seniors probably think we’re really young and pretty naive,” Gregory said. “I think it gets in the way of talking to people and having an open mind about freshmen.”

Goodman considers these attitudes hindrances to good relationships between the freshmen and seniors, noting that seniors should be “leaders more so than rulers.”

“I think we’re right to correct them when they’re wrong,” Goodman said, “but I don’t think we have the right to kind of have that power hungry mentality. I think we take it too far.”

alternative coverage by Mary Hilliard

57.1% of freshmen believe the seniors treat their class poorly either some or all of the time, while 75.0% of seniors believe their grade is disrespected by the freshmen at least some of the time. How does the idea of seniority and senior privileges influence how the grades view each other’s behavior?

Seniors receive their “senior privileges” as long as they have completed their 90-hour service requirement, according to campus ministry director Meredith Snyder. These privileges include access to the senior parking lot, the opportunity to dress out of uniform once a week and the ability to leave school for the day during a ninth-period free.

94.8% of all students agree that seniors deserve senior privileges, including Burgess.

“I think it’s just that we’ve worked for it, we’ve taken all the hard classes, we’ve faced SBRs, we’ve faced different teachers,” Burgess said. “We’ve just grown, we’ve actually developed here at STA and we know the ins and outs of the place because we’ve spent so much time here. So I think that makes us more capable and therefore gives us privileges.”

However, the idea of senior privilege does not end with school-sponsored freedoms. The idea that seniors should go first in line at advisory parties or deserve more respect than other students stems from social cognitive theory, according to Children’s Mercy child psychologist Dr. Rachel Moore. This theory states that people learn how to treat others by the way they are treated.

What is ideal for freshmen is that they don’t know what to expect when they enter high school, but they typically build it up to be worse than it is.”

— Dr. Moore, child psychologist

“What is ideal for freshmen is that they don’t know what to expect when they enter high school, but they typically build it up to be worse than it is,” Moore wrote. “So, if they are treated well (shown respect) by seniors, they are more likely to carry this over. Both groups are at different stress levels (e.g., adjusting to high school vs. preparing/adjusting to graduate and move on).”

This sentiment is echoed by Gregory, who attributes teachers’ leniency with seniors to the students’ place at STA.

“[Senior privileges] probably come from… just trying to let the seniors have a good time for their last year, whereas the freshmen are just getting started with their high school experience and the seniors are finishing it out,” Gregory said.

Though senior privileges are widely accepted at STA, issues tend to arise in the cases when senior privileges transition into seniority, as indicated by Prentiss.

“Though I understand the thinking behind seniority, I think it’s just one more way that we [as a society] create a sense of entitlement in our culture,” Prentiss said. “I think the idea that you are entitled to act a certain way just because you are older or have been in a place longer is counterproductive.”

Freshman Polly Johnson also cites this attitude of entitlement as an issue within the senior class.

“I feel like sometimes people can be a little entitled,” Johnson said. “I think [this entitlement would occur] if a senior were to start expecting certain things rather than being grateful for them.”

While Burgess sees a clear difference between seniors and freshmen in terms of position and privileges, she does not want this difference to define how students interact.

“I think there’s a fine line between wanting them to respect you and wanting them to fear you,” Burgess said. “ I don’t want anyone to fear me and I want people to be able to talk to me, but I also want people to know that as upperclassmen, as seniors, we’ve been through all of this before and there’s reason that we have privileges that they don’t. It’s because we’ve earned it, and they need to earn it… It’s not age, it’s experience.”

96.6% of 148 freshmen, sophomores and juniors predict that, as seniors, they will have good relationships with underclassmen. Is this a realistic goal? Can the freshman-senior relationship be mended? How can current and future student ensure this takes place?

Goodman believes the relationship between this years’ seniors and freshmen could be fixed if the seniors changed their behavior toward the freshmen.

“We still have well over a month to mend it and make it right,” Goodman said. “And even then we’ll most likely come back in the future and see the same faces so I think it’s just important that we take them under our wing and let them know that they are just as much [a part of] the sisterhood as any upperclassman and just to accept them for who they are instead of who they think they should be. “

The way to fix the relationship, however, is not completely clear, according to Gregory.

“None of your teachers could ever be like, ‘go talk to the freshmen! Extra credit if you talk to the freshmen!” Gregory said.

Gregory also noted that the senior and freshman classes are more inclined to “just want to get through the year.”

“The seniors just want to graduate and they’re just trying to enjoy their senior year,” Gregory said, “and the freshmen and trying to still find their ground. I think we just need to get more away from that and try a little bit harder to talk to other classes.”

Since social cognitive theory suggests a recurring cycle of senior to freshman tension, this tension should be removed by intentional action by both parties, according to Moore.

“I think that seniors need to engage in more perspective-taking strategies, focusing on how they felt and behaved when they were freshman, as opposed to who they are now,” Moore wrote. “Freshman need to be willing to participate in extracurricular activities to increase their exposure and familiarity with upper classmen.  Most of what the freshman-senior debate is about is a younger sister vs. older sister discussion.  Older siblings will demand/want respect just for being older, and younger siblings rebel against this often, especially if they are not treated fairly or kindly.”

Drama teacher Shana Prentiss understands why seniors may misunderstand the freshman class because of the age difference, but believes their attitudes could be changed if they tried to remember their first year at STA.

I say this with nothing but love, but 14 year olds are kind of annoying.”

— Shana Prentiss, teacher

“It seems every year I have a senior witness a freshman doing something weird or silly and the senior will turn to me and ask, ‘Were we that annoying as freshmen?’ Prentiss said. “And my answer is always, “yes.” I say this with nothing but love, but 14 year olds are kind of annoying. They are still growing and figuring stuff out… If more seniors took a moment to remember themselves at that age, they would cut the current freshmen a break.”

Though “cliche,” according to Goodman, both classes could be guided in their actions by embracing the STA sisterhood.

“I think that’s the beauty of going to an all girls school is that we all relate on a similar level because we are all young women and we’re all here to get an education and to be great,” Goodman said. “That’s what STA teaches and we can’t do that if we’re constantly putting each other in boxes.”

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