Choosing our JAs

Let me preface the following remarks by stating that they are neither directed at nor against the recently selected group of Junior Advisors (JAs) for the incoming Class of 2015. They are also not directed towards any one member of the JA Selection Committee (SelCom), a group that puts in innumerable hours evaluating JA applications. However, they are directed at the Selection Committee as a whole, those currently evaluating the entry system and the entire Williams campus. In my opinion, the entry and JA systems are what make Williams unique and outstanding amongst all other small liberal arts colleges – particularly those similarly situated in the middle of nowhere. Thus we all need to pay attention to any potential weaknesses. I am no stranger to this system: I have been a Williams frosh (shout out to D3!), the close friend of many JAs and a JA myself (shout out to Willy B ’09-’10!). After learning of some of the JA rejections this year, I have been forced to conclude that this selection process is deeply flawed.
I do not say this lightly. I have had very close friends participate in SelCom for the past few years, and I know full well the long, tedious hours that those student volunteers spend interviewing candidates and discussing those interviews and their accompanying applications. For the sake of propriety, I will not go into detail as to what has suddenly convinced me so completely that something is wrong with the JA selection process. Over the past four years, I have had many conversations about the workings of SelCom, and these conversations have always been cut short because of issues with confidentiality. All members of SelCom sign confidentiality agreements – which is surely understandable given the sensitive nature of their work and the competitive nature of the JA application process. However, I have been frustrated again and again by the inability to even discuss just how SelCom operates. There is a line between secrecy as a necessary form of protection and secrecy as a way of avoiding accountability. It is not right that the major draw for me to join SelCom – besides having a say in who would guide future freshmen, of course – was to be able to know just how the system works and how it can be made better.
I am sure that I am not the only Williams student who has been shocked, saddened and angered by some of the decisions made by the Selection Committee over the years. While I recognize that rejection is a painful, necessary part of the application process, I am concerned about the nature of the system that leads to these often baffling decisions. For instance, many people have specifically complained that someone was not selected because they did not have a persuasive enough advocate, or any advocate at all, on SelCom. It should be clear to everyone that a person should not be selected as a JA – as an integral part of the lifeblood of Williams – just because they have a good friend or some sort of supporter on SelCom. The system should be able to stand on its own two feet without the crutch of nepotism. If the applications, interviews and recommendations are not enough to provide the basis for a sound decision, then I am left to believe that the entire JA selection process needs to be overhauled.
Furthermore, many people do not apply to join SelCom because it takes up so much precious time. Thus it would appear that the selection process has become so cumbersome that it precludes wider and perhaps more diverse participation by the Williams community. Should the process go on longer, perhaps, so that the meetings could be spread out or shortened? More importantly, however, the process by which members of SelCom are chosen and methods by which they chose the new JA class need to be more transparent. As it stands, SelCom exists as a secretive community with no unbiased form of review, which hides behind contracts of confidentiality as it blindly chooses the group of students that will play a vital, irreplaceable role at the College. Though this year’s selection process has come to a close, I sincerely hope that this issue is addressed and that, someday, my faith in the JA selection process will be restored.

Susannah Eckman ’11 is an art and chemistry double major from Chadds Ford, Penn. She lives in Dodd.