Spring is in the air. The snow has melted, the critters of summer are beginning to show themselves and children are running about and playing catch. And importantly, student committees and organizations have begun planning for next fall. I’m sure almost every student is familiar with the variety of processes – from the students elected to College Council by campus vote, to students appointed by the College for advocacy committees to students essentially making themselves rulers of their little organizational fiefdom.
As spring brings change to every coming summer, someone needs to bring renewal to some campus committees. Particularly, I’m speaking of those committees which place some students in a privileged and private position to judge their peers without any means of recourse. There are only a handful of committees that fit this bill, including the College Council Appointments Committee and the Gargoyle Society, but of these, I’m going to direct my call for reform to one in particular: the Junior Advisor Selection Committee.
Junior Advisors are a sacred institution at Williams. The Committee on Undergraduate Life decided months ago that the JA and the entry systems are the paradigm by which student life thrives. No one has disagreed with this analysis, at least loudly. Yet one just needs to look at the framework of JA Selection Committee to see places that could and ultimately do create egregious errors. JA Selection Committee is formed of a few sophomores, some current and former JAs and a few random juniors and seniors. The complete number is approximately 24, with all students appointed by the JA Advisory Board. Every member of the JA Advisory Board (who are elected by the standing JAs) can become a member of Selection Committee if he or she wishes. As you can probably see, this is a rather circular system whereby present JAs can reproduce future JA classes in their own image with little room for dissent or criticism.
One could argue that it’s best that peers judge peers since students are going to know their fellow students far better than deans or professors. But what exactly does “knowing your fellow student” entail? Basically that means knowing all the dirt that the committee can collect on the applicants, unless you hold favor in the committee with those who know your “dirty laundry” and choose to keep it on the “down-low.” Personally, I find it a little disturbing that my peers are essentially telling strangers on this committee all the worries and errors and faults I have. Others on the committee may not realize the circumstances when I hooked up with Miss Woodbridge or smoked up with some pals in Mission. Of course, things like hearsay and rumor come into the fold to judge how people would perform as a JA. Ultimately, it depends who is on this committee. If there’s one person who really wants to stop you from being a junior advisor, you can pretty much kiss your chance good-bye. On the opposite token, you have a pretty damn good shot of becoming a JA if you have one or two major advocates who tell everyone how you’re the next coming of the Messiah.
Other criticisms of JA selection go beyond the individual selection, and on to how the junior advisory body looks as a whole. Every year I’ve been here, I could count the number of minority JAs on my fingers. It’s a disturbing fact that many on the selection committee overlook this year after year. The committee claims that it tries its best to have minority JAs, but not enough minorities apply. But I ask selection committee, why is that? I’ve never heard anyone on selection committee try to tackle that question. Why do you think minorities don’t apply to become junior advisors? Could it possibly be that because 90 percent of JAs are white, that minority students associate junior advising as a “white thing”? I’m not saying selection committee is racist, but simply that it fails to address this issue every year. There is little doubt among the student body that there is a definite “image” of what a JA should look like. So if you’re not a WUFO player who drinks, has two Northface fleeces and grew up near Route 128 or on the Main Line, you should make that appointment with Dean Laura McKeon for study abroad.
My concern over JA Selection Committee did not crystallize until last Thursday when Peter Munoz ’02 came to the Vista meeting to conduct a survey on minorities at Williams. A common motif I heard throughout the night from first-years was their concern over how the entry system was not receptive to minorities. More specifically, one first-year mentioned how her JAs ignored minority-specific events. The first-years also mentioned how all the junior advisors seemed like the same person. These are definite concerns that must be addressed by future selection committees or by the college administration. It appears from recent history that future selection committees will not look into this, so I call on the Dean’s Office to examine the selection committee process themselves. If Williams truly wants to improve minority satisfaction on campus, looking at the JA Selection Committee would be a great way to start.