United for a reason

“Why are the Junior Advisors so exclusive?” If you’ve ever worn the purple Junior Advisor (JA) shirt, chances are that one of your friends has said this to you, maybe as you left to go to a party with other JAs, maybe after you canceled dinner plans to go to a meeting with your Junior Advisor Advisory Board member. It’s a sentiment I’ve heard a lot, explicitly and implicitly. Though my friends typically said it because they were disappointed we wouldn’t be hanging out, it was hard not to take their comments a little personally.

It’s even more difficult because there isn’t an answer that’s readily understandable to people outside the JA community. The JAs appear superficially exclusive because they share a great deal of experiences, both rewarding and difficult, during their junior year. From the beginning of your year as a JA, you’re marked as different. A list of the JAs’ names is published in the pages of the Record. From then on, your life is consumed for three weeks by JA dates, JA dates that will push your friends off your meal calendar and party schedule because they’re so time intensive. JA dates are accompanied by an almost constant chatter of who will end up cos with whom, capped by entry draw when the JAs parade across campus dressed in ridiculous costumes, in which they will be extensively photographed and documented on Facebook. And the 52 purple JA shirts, which the JAs seem to wear for weeks in the beginning of the year, are just the cherry on top.

This is the public part of being a JA, the part that makes you feel like you’re bobbing around in a giant fishbowl. But the important work, the in-the-trenches duty that every JA pulls, is sometimes not as visible. We’re banished to Frosh Quad and Mission, and regardless of how intentional we are about taking time outside the entry, we end up knowing a lot more about freshman gossip than what’s happening in the world of juniors. At first, I loved this. It was nice to take a break from the real world and focus on someone else’s social foibles, but it was also extremely isolating. The problem with being a junior among freshmen is that you’re a junior among freshmen. Sure, it’s only a couple years’ age difference, but more than that, it’s the fact that you are incontrovertibly these first-years’ JA. No matter how many dinners you have with them, there’s an isolation, which is at times more acute than at others, but is always there. You’re trapped in a netherworld. It’s hard to fully participate in the dynamics of your junior friends because you’re no longer with them day-in and day-out – some of them are even on different continents. But simultaneously, you’re definitively (and thankfully) not a freshman.

Conveniently, there are 51 other people in exactly the same situation. Some of them even live next door to you. This, rather than any illusions that the JAs are occupying a unique and exclusive Williams social stratum, is what leads to a reputation of JA cliqueness. In many ways, it’s nothing to be envious of. While JAs are certainly friends with one another because they enjoy one another’s company, there’s a fundamental understanding in the JA community that is hard to discover outside of it. Other JAs understand that sometimes the best part of being a JA is just chilling in a common room with a bunch of goony frosh, that sometimes it’s okay to cry yourself to sleep, that sometimes you feel elated and empty simultaneously and that sometimes, you just really, really don’t want to talk about freshmen.

The JAs bond because they’re going through something that’s difficult to explain to people who aren’t as consumed by the first-year world as they are. The expectations and pressures we place on JAs don’t have to affect every part of a JA’s life, but there are aspects of the role that are difficult to articulate. I know this isn’t revelatory; I’m sure someone’s enlightened you that being a JA is sometimes really hard. But simultaneously, as a Williams student, you can empathize that constantly whining about how difficult it can be isn’t how JAs want to spend their free time with their friends. Personally, I would rather not regale you with tales of holding first-years’ hair back on Saturday nights; I’d rather hear about the new internship you’re totally pumped to apply for. JAs face a difficult task in maintaining old friendships, keeping their sanity and fulfilling their duties. Being friends with other JAs isn’t a sign of some misguided social superiority; it’s merely a tool that helps you keep your other relationships strong. Just when the pressure of feeling like you’re living in a fishbowl gets too much, it’s nice to know that there are 51 other fish who won’t ask you

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why you’re in the fishbowl in the first place.

Nicole Smith ’14 is a political science major from Midland, Mich. She lives in Prospect.

  • K

    While this article was probably well-intended, to ensure next year’s class of JAs that it’s okay if your friendships suffer a little bit during the incredible, irreplicable experience, it doesn’t look ao sweet from the other side. Thanks for affirming that my best friend and roommate was right not to tell me there was a JA party, instead leaving me in a panic when she wasn’t home and wasn’t answering her phone. After all, those 51 people will be her true friends next year, and I was just a eejected applicant.