Campus debate about the Junior Advisor Selection Committee (JA SelCom) always gets muddled in unfounded accusations of nepotism, often by friends of rejected candidates or by JAs who have some self-aggrandizing stake in whether their frosh gets JA or not, as if it’s a reflection on their own performance. From what I can muster up from institutional memory, the last two JA Advisory Boards (JAABs) who supervised SelCom have sought to make the selection process more transparent to the student body and develop clearer objectives for those serving as members. Although I may be biased from my two years serving on SelCom, I would argue that the campus was represented well, with committee members coming from a variety of our campus’ microcommunities. Many of the members knew few people in attendance the first night we convened. Instead of receiving incessant unfounded scrutiny because of the coveted purple shirt attached to the results, this process should be applauded for the amount of internal review and structural changes made over the last two years. Yes, to stop self-review would lead to complacency, but to ignore these efforts and berate dedicated student leaders is equally misguided.
For SelCom, hours of work can be reduced and discarded by bitter and uninformed opinions. The process is often narrowly judged by what the selected JAs superficially look like, not their performance or capabilities. There’s often talk of the number of JAs who are of color, on sports teams, are non-drinkers or are LGBTQ. As someone active in community and diversity issues, I understand that having campus leaders from underrepresented groups in positions of authority, especially as JAs, holds greater weight than mere symbolism.
While an organization such as SelCom purposely selects students to create a microcosm of the Williams community, the students elected to College Council (CC) are significantly more homogenous. Further, and more importantly, it should be noted that CC has a large role in selecting students who shape how our campus is run and is struggling to keep pace with the increasingly high standard set by past and current JAABs in regards to inclusiveness.
One of CC’s most overlooked functions is to appoint students to student-faculty committees. Although there are sometimes guidelines from the incoming faculty chair of the committee, it is unclear to the student body what the appointments committee is seeking in candidates. CC could cast a broader net in collecting self-nominations from students with a broad array of interests, identities and expressions. This way the CC appointments committee can make the committees more inclusive. Additionally, making the list of students selected visible through an all-campus e-mail can not only encourage students to approach these appointed campus leaders with their issues, but to also give constructive feedback to CC on how their appointees performed. CC, a conscientious and incredibly hardworking group, cannot develop ideas of how to improve its process without constructive student feedback.
If CC was to have clearer guidelines in its selection process, the fact that not one student-faculty committee had a student chair of color until this spring semester (due to the original chair leaving campus to study abroad) would be slightly less troubling. What is worse: I was on that cycle of the appointments committee. In retrospect, I realize having guidelines would have at least set the tone of looking holistically at the leaders we were appointing. However, we must avoid reducing the candidates to singular aspects of their perceived identity. As a campus, we often forget that there is a multitude of diversity: race, gender expression, sexual orientation, socioeconomic background, nationality, religion and physical abilities, not to mention academic and extracurricular interests. By appreciating how these diverse elements infuse our respective campus identities, CC can create a better representation of students on student faculty committees, one that reflects the rich diversity that makes us the top liberal arts school in the nation.
CC should lead the way in this by making the process of applying clearer and by breaking down tangible and intangible barriers to participation. For example, student athletes, who constitute a large portion of the student population and have a large influence on the campus culture, are excluded from participating on the most important student-faculty committees due to their 4 p.m. meeting time. The absence of these voices prevents thorough and impactful discussion. Additionally, CC could reach out to students from underrepresented groups on committees by working with the Minority Coalition and the Student Athletic Advisory Committee. Many minority students and student athletes often experience being tokenized. After being restrictively labeled “the jock,” “the gay kid,” “the international,” “the financial aid student” in their entries, activities and classes, why would they want to apply for a committee and end up feeling compelled to represent “that” point of view? These students bring a variety of experiences to the table, yet often they cannot participate or opt out based on fear. Past the selection process, CC should also reach out to the student representatives during the year and be willing to intervene on behalf of students in committees with unhealthy climates. Having worked with many of the current members of CC, I have no doubt they can make the process more transparent and inclusive with creative ideas. That’s where you, as a student, come in. Serving on a committee allows you to impact your community through working with staff and faculty from across campus. Let your voice be heard and apply.
Zach Evans ’12 is a history major from Clifton Park, N.Y. He lives in Poker.