JA diversity and equal opportunity: Evaluating the inclusivity of the Junior Advisor system

April 20, 2016 by The Williams Record Editorial Board

A recent poll conducted by the Record found that Junior Advisors (JAs) are significantly less likely to be on financial aid than the student body, more likely to be white and more likely to be varsity athletes. The self-reported nature of this poll leaves open the possibility that this data may be skewed. And yet, the necessity of relying on such self-reported data due to the unwillingness of the administration and the JA Advisory Board to release their statistics on the demographics of JAs or JA applicants is itself representative of the College community’s unwillingness to scrutinize and address this issue.

The fact that JAs are less likely to be on financial aid is not entirely surprising. Students on financial aid are perhaps more likely to take advantage of the chance to study abroad – when at least a portion of the expenses will be covered by their aid and tuition will likely be cheaper than that of the college – than students from wealthier backgrounds, who may have already had the chance to travel internationally and expect to be able to do so in the future. Moreover, the responsibilities of the position, which require JAs to devote a great deal of time and energy to their entries, may make it less feasible for students who have to work substantial hours in a work-study position.

Students should be able to freely choose how to spend their junior years and the possibility of paying JAs could prove problematic as a result of how it might change the entry dynamic. First-years should believe that their JAs are there for them because they want to be there for them, not because of a stipend, free housing or any other reason.

But there are several things that can be done to make the JA class more representative of students at the College as a whole, as well as ensuring that all sophomores who would like to be JAs are not inhibited from doing so by financial or otherwise extraneous concerns. Over the past few years, the Dean’s Office, led by Associate Dean and Dean of First Generation Initiatives Rosanna Reyes, has spearheaded several efforts to encourage first-generation students to apply to be JAs. Such endeavors should be expanded upon in the future, with efforts made to reach not only first-generation students but other groups of students who tend to be underrepresented in the JA class. Similar efforts might be made to better represent students of color in the JA class. The administration should also explore ways of offering greater support to JAs, in terms of helping them through the emotional and academic strains of the year. This would, of course, be of service to all JAs, but could be particularly useful to JAs who might be carrying the added burden of financial stress.

One more possibility for increasing access to the JA position is to expand the option to study abroad to sophomores and seniors, as this could potentially allow students to be able to serve as JAs without foregoing an international academic experience.

Another way to try to ensure that students from low-income backgrounds are not inhibited unnecessarily or unfairly from being JAs is to make the body of students who select the JAs – the Selection Committee (SelCom) – as representative of the student body as possible. Although the result was not statistically significant, the survey results indicate that students with a former JA on SelCom were slightly more likely to be JAs than those who did not. This analysis likely underestimates the effect of knowing someone on SelCom, however, as it does not consider JAs who knew a member of SelCom who was not their JA. Bias is unavoidable in a student-run process, and it is important to keep JA selection in the hands of students regardless of this inherent subjectiveness. At the same time, as in the case of JAs, greater outreach should be made among first-generation and financial aid students to encourage them to serve on SelCom. Furthermore, the SelCom process is exceedingly time-consuming, a problem for all students who might like to serve, but especially for those who might have major work-study commitments. Moving the selection process to Winter Study rather the beginning of spring semester would likely alleviate some of this burden.

Students at the College come from many places, from many different backgrounds. The JA class should reflect this. First-years with all different sorts of experiences should be able to look at their leaders and know that they’ll be able to find support and empathy there. And they should also be able to think, if they are so inclined, that someday they could be a JA too.

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