A look into the Junior Advisor Program

Ask any of the Junior Advisors (JA) on campus and most of them will tell you that being a JA has been one of their best experiences at Williams. In addition to goofy nicknames, purple shirts, Cool Whip fights with first-years, snacks, late night talks and entry activities, there are the countless friendships made and the satisfying feeling of having helped others adjust to life at Williams.

How is it that the JA program, unique to all liberal arts colleges, has become such an important part of life to first-years at Williams? Like many things at Williams, the JA program is steeped in tradition, although, as Kerry Christensen, the dean responsible for supervising the JA program, says, the reason why we have JAs at Williams “is shrouded in the mists of time.” What we do know, however, is that students established the JA system in the 1930s in part to keep fraternity rushing under control. Though fraternities have long since gone by the wayside, JAs still help integrate their first-year into the social life at Williams.

According to Christensen, “JAs help acclimatize first-years to Williams and help them figure out how the place works. They provide a sense of place and security when first-years need it the most and because they aren’t employees of the College, as residential assistants would be, a unique relationship of trust and support between JAs and frosh characterizes entry life.”Â

In addition, the entry system, and JAs in particular, provide an identity for first-years. Felton Booker ’01 and Beth Cadogan ’01, last year’s JA co-presidents, explained: “One strength of the JA system is the autonomy given to each JA co-pair to run their entry to the dictates of their best judgment. Each JA co-pair takes to their entry a unique vision as to what their role should be in the lives of their frosh.” The entry system also gives first-years a great chance to form new friendships. JAs often become the first friend a first-year has at Williams.

Though they serve an important purpose in the lives of many first-years, JAs also get to enjoy the fun of freshman year all over again. Jeff McBride ’02 enjoys being a JA because he gets “to do fun stuff, stupid stuff, and make an idiot of himself once again while being in the unique position of responsibility.” He mentioned a recent shaving cream fight in which his freshman “destroyed him.”Â

Morgan Barth ’02 recalls a Sunday night when he returned to his entry to find that a freshman had downloaded a photo of a Japanese snow monkey off the Internet, superimposed his face over the monkey’s and posted six copies in the entry with “Momo is so hairy” written underneath. You can stop by Barth’s entry, Morgan Midwest, every Wednesday for Otis Night: milk, cookies and soul music. Of course, JAs are not just juniors reliving their freshman years. As JA co-president Laurel Bifano ’02 observes, “JAs re-experience entry life from a slightly different perspective.” Though she enjoys hanging out with her first-years, she also spends a great deal of time helping them work through problems and organizing entry-activities. In fact, she sometimes finds it difficult to do all of this while keeping up with her schoolwork. “There just is physically not enough time to do your work, do your activities, spend time with friends and sleep… so sleep is usually the first to be eliminated.”

Being the freshmen’s main social coordinator can also be stressful. It may be fun to plan parties, trips to the movies, bowling or Ben & Jerry’s nights but having first-years expect an entry-activity every weekend can be a bit much.

Christensen acknowledged the hard work facing JAs, especially since their program does not rely on institutional structures but on relationships among students. This lack of structure, however, has left some parents feeling uncomfortable. These parents have complained that the College does not adequately supervise first-years, and that student control of residential life makes important rules difficult to enforce. Since JAs are not obligated to enforce college regulations and are not held accountable for the actions of their first-years the JA system relies heavily on students’ responsibility.Â

JA co-president Craig Tamamoto ’02 observed that the disadvantages of being a JA—extra work and inability to study abroad among other things—act as a filter letting only the truly dedicated and responsible even apply for the much sought after positions. Still, Tamamoto admits that, “the administration and the College take a huge risk by entrusting JAs with shaping the first-year residential experiences and in recent years, have nearly paid the price for it.”

The College is aware that the system is imperfect and students and faculty are always looking for ways to make it better. To that end, the JA Advisory Committee, which is composed of current and past JAs and representatives from the Dean’s office, oversees the evolution of the system that has helped countless Williams freshman adjust to college life.

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