Progressing with clarity: Why JAAB’s shift away from the gender binary was a good idea executed poorly

On the whole, we commend the Junior Advisor Advisory Board (JAAB) and the Junior Advisor Selection Committee (SelCom) for no longer requiring that Junior Advisor (JA) co-pairings follow the one female, one male model. Philosophically, we believe this is a step in the right direction and that gender ought not to be the determining factor in assessing a JA applicant. Differences in gender identity bring diversity to a JA class – especially since we are often socialized to feel affinity with members of our own gender – but many other qualities are important in a JA. This change is also inclusive of first-years, JA applicants and JAs who do not identify along the gender binary, resonating with our community’s values.

Although we support the philosophy underlying this change, we believe this decision should have been the product of a wider campus dialogue beyond this year’s SelCom. Virtually all students have some experience with the entry system, and many have valuable insights despite not being able to make the serious commitment that SelCom requires. Even though JA co-pairings have not always followed the female-male model, this is still a significant change to the JA system of recent memory, which surprised many, including JA applicants, when decisions were released.

JAAB claims it had decided to eliminate the gender binary before soliciting applications, but this was not clear to applicants. The application did not specify that this change would happen, although the application did indicate that applicants could identify their gender however they chose, including not identifying. We think that JAAB ought to have explicitly noted on the application that applicants might be entering a JA class that would pilot a new structure for co-pairings. Indeed, there might have been potential applicants who chose not to apply because they did not think the co-pairing structure would change, or some who applied because they thought the co-pairings would be gendered. At a minimum, when SelCom definitively decided to do away with the practice of accepting 26 males and 26 females during the selection process, it should have notified applicants and asked if they wanted to continue in the application process.

Furthermore, the Dean’s Office notified accepted JA applicants on Friday – a week earlier than anticipated and the same day that Williams-Exeter Program at Oxford decisions came out – and only gave them until Monday to accept or decline the offer (until JAAB extended the deadline an extra day, after the initial deadline passed). Although this three-day turnaround is typical, we believe that accepted applicants deserved more time to think about these decisions given that they unexpectedly came early and that applicants only learned of the change to co-pairings in their acceptance emails. Therefore, it would have been worthwhile for JAAB and SelCom to provide applicants with a week instead of three days.

We are concerned that, given the high number of women selected for next year’s JA class, that women may eventually become overrepresented as JAs because of their societal expectations to be caretakers and that the JAs of less-represented genders may also each bear a higher burden if some first-years feel more comfortable seeking advice or guidance from someone of their own gender identity. However, we believe that this change, when implemented thoughtfully with the goal of improving the overall inclusiveness of the JA system, has benefits that outweigh these drawbacks. To implement this change responsibly, we hope that this year’s and next year’s JAABs will foster a broader campus dialogue, including through some form of a new committee. Plans for implementation do not seem to be set in stone, as there are still many decisions to be made, and the College community could provide valuable input. We also think that JAAB ought to send an all-campus email detailing the change and its plans for implementing it. Currently, there is no public source of information beyond the Record about this policy, leaving many questions unanswered. For example, how will co-pairings be constructed? What might happen in the event that a first-year wants to speak to a JA of a gender not represented in their entry’s leadership?

Next year, we encourage JAAB to advertise thoughtfully the nature of the JA position when soliciting applications, diligently collect feedback from first-years and JAs on this change and include the broader community in these conversations and decisions. Ultimately, we believe that the move away from gender-binary co-pairings in programs and systems that define the first-year experience is a positive one that reflects the College’s values and the inclusivity that we as a community strive to uphold.