Low number of JA applications necessitates larger entries composed of three or four JAs
Yesterday, the Junior Advisor Advisory Board (JAAB) sent out a statement informing the student body that there will be fewer than 52 Junior Advisors (JAs) to the class of 2022. This is a major change from recent years and means that the entry system will undergo significant revamping. This announcement followed a meeting on Monday night between the incoming JAs and the six members of JAAB, including current JAAB co-presidents Jad Hamdan ’19 and Jesse Facey ’19. The meeting clarified that low JA application rates and high rejections of JA offers would necessitate significant changes to the system. Instead of having 26 entries with two JAs each, three or four JAs will jointly oversee larger clusters of approximately 40 first years.
Hamdan characterized this year’s changes as the culmination of a long-term shift in perceptions of the JA system. “I feel like there’s a misconception that something different changed this year,” he said. “There have been a lot of misconceptions on campus about the ways in which the JA system has itself been marginalizing, has been challenging… That has continually shown itself in the number of people applying.”
According to JAAB’s statement, this year’s number of applications was a record low. The announcement attributed this to a number of factors. “Over the past few years, we’ve heard many valid criticisms of the JA system. Examples include [how] JAs taking on undue emotional labor, the unfair burden placed on JAs of color and the financial stress experienced by low-income JAs, among others,” JAAB wrote in the statement.
Ultimately, this year, the drop in applications was so dramatic that it made the previous system untenable. “If you have a consistent number of people who say no to the role, and it keeps dropping by 15 or 20 people every single year, there comes a point where there is no longer as substantial of a buffer,” Hamdan said.
Still, many people who applied to be JAs were rejected, and the co-presidents do not regret that decision. “There were a good number of people we said no to,” Hamdan said. “Part of that decision was choosing to have a really awesome JA class, just configured in a little bit of a different way.”
Facey emphasized that this shift is not necessarily a radical departure from the traditional roles of JAs. “52 JAs in 26 entries – the way that they have been set up this year – is not something that has always been here,” she said. “JAs and entries have existed in various buildings on campus and in various integrations, in groups of up to four [JAs]. While this may seem like a huge change, it’s not unprecedented.” Facey added that the student-to-JA ratio will only be rising from 10.5 to 1 to 12.5 to 1, still giving each student plenty of exposure to their JAs.
Still, the shifts will be noticeable. “The physical layout of the entries is going to change a little bit… Frosh Quad, for instance, will have a larger Sage A/B entry that has four JAs in it,” Hamdan said. He stressed, however, that these changes could end up being positive for the entry experience. “We are instituting these changes to tackle some of the bigger issues in terms of how JAs think of the responsibilities of the role,” Hamdan said. “You are far less likely to feel compelled to help every single frosh when somebody has an issue that CSS [Campus Safety and Security] can take care of or to act as a therapist to so many frosh because it’s functionally impossible. The goal of that is to use the structure of the entry to guide how people work within the role and how people behave as JAs… You are meant to be a friend and a mentor, but not a therapist.”
Facey also sees the JA role as having shifted somewhat from friend to therapist in recent years. “It’s become more prominent over time as the lines between the written down responsibilities of the JA and the campus education [have shifted],” she said. “These changes are a way for us to try and create tangible steps to change this dialogue… I really do think these can be positive changes, but they do require people to lean into the system.”
Without these changes, JAAB’s statement warned, the consequences could be dire for the JA system. “If significant changes aren’t made, then future first-years may experience a Williams without a JA system,” JAAB wrote.
Hamdan is grateful for the administration’s support throughout this shift and is hopeful that, in future years, the number of JA applications will once again rise. “We have gotten a lot of administrative support, very fortunately,” he said. “We’re in the process of working with the Dean’s Office to institute a lot of new JA benefits and perks to help, especially in this year, to really get the ball rolling in changing what the stated burden and the experienced burden of being a JA is.”
The specific perks that may be offered are still undecided as of this moment, but Hamdan and Facey are cognizant of the temptation that many students may feel to study abroad during their junior year rather than become JAs. “As Williams has become more and more diverse, study abroad has become more and more of a valuable option,” Facey said. “We’re trying to think of different ways that we can compete with that when this is an opportunity that is so hard to pass up.”
In order to brainstorm potential changes for the future of the JA system, JAAB has designated the week of April 2 to be “JA week,” which will be a time to contemplate various ways to best protect the JA system.
Whether or not application rates ultimately rise in the coming years, however, the entry structure will continue to adapt. “Now that we’ve broken with this ideal number, I think that it will give us more power to really pick the best candidates,” Facey said.
Hamdan and Facey plan to use both the positives and negatives of recent changes to keep reforming the JA system, and they are optimistic that these reforms will allow the system to thrive for years to come.