JA privilege

There aren’t many moments in your life that have enough gravity to make you realize them as they happen – moments that you can point to months or years later and recognize as turning points. But I’ve had one. It happened at exactly this time last year, and it’s happening again – this time to the 52 sophomores whose names will be featured in an upcoming issue of the Record. Getting selected to be a Junior Advisor (JA) might just be the best thing that ever happened to me. So if anyone can understand the wonderful chaos of this week, it’s this proud “mama” to the 29 first-years of Sage E. And yet, in the midst of the hushed congratulations and celebratory Facebook statuses, what I’ve noticed most is a big misunderstanding.

You see, there’s this sense – perpetuated even by aspiring, contemporary and vintage JAs themselves – that the position and the ensuing decision to accept it is an act of self-sacrifice. Even this week, I’ve heard things like “there goes my junior year” or “guess I better say goodbye to my social life,” with astonishing frequency. The way JA-ship is often talked about, it might as well be some sort of missionary trip – albeit, with a little more vomit and many more tears. Amidst conversations like these, I can’t help but think that we’re talking about this all wrong.

My hunch was crystallized for me last week before a class meeting, when a proud “entry aunt” to-be squealed her secondhand excitement regarding a friend’s selection. In the discussion that followed, my professor referenced the undertaking as entirely irrational. He even went so far as to project that the success of the program was buoyed only by the fact that it was “competitive,” musing that you could recruit as many hopeful applicants for a custodial position if it were cloaked in the same exclusivity.

That’s when I knew everything was backwards and upside-down. If your experience is anything similar to mine, being a JA is nothing short of a blessing. And it only asks for sacrifices as often as it gives miracles. In accepting the position, you aren’t – as I’ve overheard this week – “giving up your life.” In fact, you might just be learning how to really live it. Spending a year in the purple shirt affords you an unrivaled chance to learn about yourself and an unequaled opportunity to positively affect the lives of others. Frankly, it shouldn’t be surprising that people are clamoring to be JAs. And it’s about time we stop talking about it that way.

I’ve realized this most in beginning to think – as all juniors must – about what life after the purple bubble might look like. Whether it was a job interview or an afternoon spent imagining my upcoming summer in New York City, everything about it made me grateful for having been a JA. Because doing so gave me the chance to see, earlier in life than many, just how I react when put in situations so difficult my imagination couldn’t even have come up with them. When interviewers asked me how I dealt with crises, the answer I gave them wasn’t just some rehearsed speech: It was the truth, a truth I could only have learned in my entry. After this year, I will have already been pushed as far as I ever will be. Now, I know how I cope, and no obstacle the real world may throw at me seems so daunting. Being a JA also gave me the chance to deeply impact the lives of 30 people, something rendered difficult or impossible in the world of cubicles and faceless mobs on the subway. When you wear the purple shirt, you have the capacity to change the experiences of your first-years in a huge and positive way. That’s about as good as it gets.

And beyond that, there’s the opportunity to build a year-long haven for your first-years, to make a nest out of what was once an empty common room. Few things will ever make you as proud as the day your frosh first says they’re “heading home” when they march proudly to the door of your entry. And when you factor in the caramel apples and chocolate chip pancakes on Sunday nights at 10 p.m., what’s not to love?

What I’m getting at is this: Being a JA isn’t just an act of service. It is also a gift; and – for those willing to see it that way – it is ripe with opportunities and benefits. Once you’re as well acquainted with those benefits as I am, you understand that the decision to become a JA should be less about what you’re giving up and a lot more about what you might be getting.

So, to the College community: There are few experiences as incredible as the one we just gave the 52 people who will move back to Mission and Frosh Quad next fall, so remember to talk about it that way. And to those lucky 52: There won’t be many moments in your life quite like this one, so remind yourself to see it that way. And make sure that whatever you’re saying sounds a lot more like “thank you” than “you’re welcome.”

Emily Calkins ’14 is an English and political science double major from Baltimore, Md. She lives in Sage.

Comments (3)

  1. You are out of touch with reality.

  2. This op-ed makes all Williams students look bad. The lack of perspective and bourgeois entitlement are disgusting.

    “Because doing so gave me the chance to see, earlier in life than many, just how I react when put in situations so difficult my imagination couldn’t even have come up with them”

    If Emily Calkins cannot imagine a situation in life more challenging than being a JA, I am shocked how she was admitted to the college.

    Williams Record, stay terrible.

  3. Great job, Emily! Though being a JA isn’t all fun and games, I’m glad you have a had an experience this great and one worth sharing with the Williams community.

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