Rethinking purple: JAs consider standards of inclusivity

The following piece was written with the intent of being included in last week’s issue alongside the views of other Junior Advisors (JAs). We chose to separate it purely for space issues.

The JA system is from a time when Williams was an institution that served entirely white men, and JAs were meant to be “informal counselors and mediators, but above all … friends, who just happen to know the lay of the land.” This does not seem a terribly difficult task when the demographics are all the same. However, as Williams is only too eager to remind us, the College has evolved since then. The institution proudly holds up its demographic numbers as proof of diversity and holds up programs such as first generation and international orientation as proof of inclusion. Additionally, the entry continues to be “a thoughtfully constructed microcosm of the Williams community.” This phrase is meant to convey the amount of learning and growth that takes place in the entry, from JAs and other first-year students. However, it doesn’t relay the fact that the JA and entry system places a lot of the burden of educating on students of marginalized identities and furthermore leaves these students without institutional support. The entry is a diverse community only for those who make up a majority on campus, and it separates minority populations, essentially tasking them with speaking for entire groups of people. Continuing to wear the purple shirt, for a lot of JAs, implied that we were buying into a system that had not been fully supportive of us.

For me, that was the main issue I wanted to highlight in supporting a change in color of the JA shirt. To wear something that was so quintessentially Williams while holding identities that have historically had to fight for space at this institution seemed a dissonance too large to ignore. I made a patch that mirrors the logo of the First Generation shirt to attach to my sleeve, to give representation to what is often called an “invisible identity,” and dip-dyed my shirt from the bottom up, effectively changing the color of at least part of the shirt. The most significant piece, however, is a quote from one of my fellow members of the JA class that reads: “Some people are uncomfortable wearing the purple shirt. Williams doesn’t represent all of its students. And in turn, some of its students are uncomfortable representing Williams. Forcing these students (remember, these are our peers! our friends!) to do so is inconsiderate and disrespectful. Therefore, the shirt color must change.” I left the top half of my shirt purple to call attention to the fact that, despite reading these words and many other similar sentiments, over half of the class voted to keep the shirt purple. Some did this with the intent of bleaching or customizing their shirt, but others certainly chose the aesthetic preference or historical tradition of purple over the requests of their peers. It is important that we do not gloss over this fact, and acknowledge that it is hard to break from our history, which makes it all the more important for those of us who would have felt and continue to feel comfortable to take a stand on behalf of those who don’t.

It’s easy to claim that those of us who were disappointed are missing the bigger picture, that a shirt does not change anything and that it detracts from the actual work of improving the system. To that, I hope to remind my peers, and the larger Williams community, that the most important part of supporting students of marginalized identities is to listen to them, and when a specific action is requested, to believe that it is important and needed. I believe this is a place where the JA class could have pushed themselves to empathize more fully with each other. The role of JA has evolved, and according to the Dean of College’s JA page, we “must be able to make ties with students of all genders and sexual orientations, domestic and international students and students of all religions and ethnicities.” That is no small task, and it will certainly push all of us to be our kindest and most compassionate selves but also to hold each other to the highest standards for inclusivity. I have no doubt that we are ready.

Andrea Quintanar ’19 is a political science major concentrating in justice and law and Latinx studies from San Diego, Calif. She lives in Williams Hall.