Leaving behind the gender binary: Thoughts on the recent transformation of the entry system

When I got to Williams, one of the first things I fell in love with was the entry system. I loved my roommate, was obsessed with my Junior Advisors (JAs) and felt like my entry was my family. But when I got to Williams, I also realized that the entry system was going to fall short for me in one very important way. I had recently begun questioning my sexual orientation, and while I knew my JAs and entrymates would be supportive while I tried to figure everything out, I didn’t feel like I knew anyone who would understand what I was going through. I didn’t have a JA to turn to who had been through something similar, and even if I had known other first-years who may have understood, I was too new to be comfortable talking to them.

Two years later, as a JA, I faced a similar challenge. While I had come out privately to many of my closest friends, my sexual orientation was by no means a public thing. But as a JA, I felt like it was the right time to really come out. I wanted to be genuine with my first-years, but I didn’t want them to have to keep my secret. Once again, there were very few people in the entry system that I could turn to. I knew of only one or two JAs in my class or the class above me who identified as something other than straight, and their situations were not very applicable to mine. So once again I found myself facing a difficult situation largely on my own. For the second time, I felt let down in a small but important way by the entry system.

My experience as a questioning first-year, and then a non-straight JA, has made me believe that the diversity of the JA class is paramount to the success of the entry system. Diversity is imperative in ensuring that as many first-years as possible feel comfortable at Williams and feel that they have someone to turn to who can understand whatever it is that they may be facing in life. My first-year experience would have been very different if I had known of an LGBT JA I could talk to.

But a diverse JA class does not only benefit the first-years; it benefits every JA as well. I can’t help but think that my coming out experience as a JA would have been easier if I had been able to turn to other JAs who had come out to their first-years. And as a JA trying to support 14 to 30 first-years from many different backgrounds, it can only help to have other JAs to turn to who have had different life experiences than your own.

For this reason, I am generally in support of the recent change to the JA selection and co-pair process. I think that shifting away from the gender binary aspects of the JA system will generally help increase diversity and inclusivity in the JA class, which will then positively affect the first-year experience. If this change makes more first-years feel welcome and supported in their entries and allows for a more diverse and qualified JA class to assist each other and their first-years, then that certainly justifies the change.

And I think that for the most part, this added potential for diversity outweighs any potential negative consequences of the change. There is one concern, however, that I feel is important to consider. That concern centers around the very theme of this op-ed: diversity. While I was not shocked to hear that the JAs to the Class of 2021 were not evenly split 26-26, I was a little concerned to hear that acceptances were sent out to almost twice as many women as men. While I don’t think that a successful entry system needs opposite-gender JA co-pairs, I do think that a successful entry system needs diversity and that includes diversity of gender. Just as it is important that the JA class has diversity in race, sexual orientation, gender identity and socio-economic status, among other things, so too is it important that the JA class has diversity in gender.

The approximate two to one ratio in JA acceptances is too lopsided in my opinion and the Junior Advisor Advisory Board and the JA Selection Committee should be careful to not let it become even more lopsided in the years to come, a task that may prove difficult. First-years may come to see the JA position as a female position, leading fewer and fewer male candidates to apply. So, while I don’t think that we need an even number of male and female JAs, or male-female co-pairs, I think it would be a great disservice to the entry system if we ever reached a day where there were 40 or 50 female JAs, no matter how qualified they were. Just as I was hurt by a lack of LGBT JAs, so too am I confident that there will be incoming first-years who we risk hurting through a lack of male JAs. Diversity is essential to a functioning and thriving entry system, and moving toward an increasingly female JA class — a likely result of this change — will limit rather than increase the diversity of the group.

Eva Fourakis ’16 was a mathematics and psychology major from Middleton, Wis. She currently lives in Princeton, N.J.