JAAB shifts JA co-pairings away from gender binary

Beginning next year, Junior Advisor (JA) co-pairings for entries will no longer follow the pre-existing gender binary, consisting of one male and one female JA per entry. Additionally, the JA selection committee (SelCom) will no longer necessarily accept an equal number of men and women to serve as JAs. The change, according to the JA Advisory Board (JAAB), is intended to move the system away from its reliance on traditional, binary gender categorization.

“We are no longer going to be making co-pairs necessarily on the gender binary,” JA Co-President Brian Benitez ’18 said on behalf of JAAB. “We realize that the current method of co-pairing is a relic of a time with strict rules on who could [and] should lead. Under this change, we hope to make the JA class a more inclusive space for all gender identities.”

The Junior Advisors who greet arriving members of the class of 2021 will no longer necessarily be matched in male-female pairings. Nicholas Goldrosen/News Editor.

Acceptance letters sent to JA applicants from the class of 2019 introduced the change explicitly for the first time. “Historically, the JA system has operated along the gender binary,” the letters read.  “We are no longer asking it to do so.  The culture of the College has evolved, and in an effort to make the system more welcoming to all identities, co-pairings will not necessarily be made based on gender.”

While the JA class is not yet finalized at press time, initial acceptances were sent to 34 women and 18 men.

The application for this year’s class of JAs did hint at the move away from reliance on binary gender identification. “We recognize that in recent history, the JA institution has implied that applicants must identify themselves on the gender binary. You are free to identify however you’d like, which includes not identifying,” the application read.

JAAB emphasized that the change in co-pairings is not a new idea with the College community. “Both 2015-16 and 2016-17 JAABs had discussed the limitations of the gender binary system. There are many who have been pushing for this change for years; while at Williams, [Davis Center Assistant Director] justin adkins repeatedly urged JAAB to consider nonbinary co-pairs,” JAAB Co-President Sarah Jensen ’17 said. “It has come to a point that there is no longer an excuse for operating the system on a binary. Among other things about the system, this makes it impossible for those don’t identify on the binary to feel like the system is for them … Additionally, while JA co-pairs have been male-female in recent years, there was in fact a time in Williams history when this was not the case, and both mixed-gender and same-gender co-pairs led co-ed entries.”

The change, which JAAB intends to be permanent, accompanies an effort to shift the JA selection process from picking the best candidates within caps for each gender to picking the most qualified applicants overall.

“We knew going into the selection process that we weren’t necessarily going to force the class to be an even gender split,” Jensen said. “In the past, applicants had been considered in two separate pools, male and female. This year we reviewed the entire class as a whole and asked [SelCom] to pick the 52 most qualified people, regardless of gender.”

Given the higher proportion of women the committee initially selected for the incoming class of JAs, JAAB responded to concerns that this change might foist an undue amount of emotional labor predominantly on women.

“This change pushes men who wish to be JAs to be just as capable and willing to be ‘caretakers’ as women by not giving anyone a guaranteed position because of an outdated gender quota,” Jensen said. “Our hope is that they will be supportive and warm, and set a wonderful example for first-years entering the Williams community that you do not have to be female to be a caretaker.”

Most importantly, JAAB also hopes that this change will help first-year students who identify as non-binary feel more welcomed by an entry system that allows them to see non-binary students in leadership roles, moving the entry system away from its connection to a gender-binary-based model.

“It begins to take away the potential emotional burden from first-years who do not identify as female or male, who have never felt welcomed by the entry system or seen someone ‘like them’ in a leadership role,” Jensen said. “It pushes the system to be adaptable and to holistically recognize applicants as individuals rather than as first and foremost by  their gender.”