Compensation and the future of the JA Role: Examining historicity and looking forward

First, it is of paramount importance that we recognize the students that have been working to change and improve the Junior Advisor (JA) system. Old and new Junior Advisor Advisory Board (JAAB) members as well as current and former JAs are just some of the individuals who have been working tirelessly on the issues of this role.

At present, though, we are facing a crisis of recruitment and retention of JAs. In a recent meeting with Provost David Love, Dean of the College Marlene Sandstrom and Dean of First-Year Students Dave Johnson, the idea of the historicity of the JA system was invoked. The general sentiment was that this crisis would pass and that we need to return to what we had been doing to help alleviate it. After all, it is partially the recent changes in the perception of the JA role and discussions on campus that have led to this crisis. If we undo this rhetoric and perception – boom, problem solved! The point, however, is not to return to history. We can go back – that is fully within our capabilities, but we shouldn’t. The kinds of changes that have occurred in recent years – increasing transparency of the difficulties of being a JA and the ways in which it can be exclusionary or taxing – these conversations should not be eroded. The point is not to elide history, but to acknowledge it and come up with innovative ways to address our contemporary situation.

Part of my frustration in this meeting was twofold, then. The first was in the suggestion that the kind of work to get out of this crisis ought to be solely student driven; the JA system is run by students, for students, thus administrative intervention is inappropriate. The problem, however, is that JAs and JAAB already put an incredible amount of work into this system. To suggest that we need to do even more work to put out fires with no aid from the administration is near ludicrous. Placing the burden on us so wholly flies in the face of a responsible ethic of community.

The second source of frustration is related to the first in this way; the work we do for this school is immense. For a school that considers JAs to be a central totem of its ethos, it feels nearly ridiculous that, in the face of this very system collapsing and no longer existing, any administration might be reticent to enact swift and meaningful change.

In other words, the task of the meeting became outlining the urgency of the issue of compensation and the necessity to work together. On some level, to administrators, it isn’t even about deserving to be paid for this incredible work we do (hint: we do, but that simplistic argument does not resonate with the administration because of an unwillingness to move on from the past). Rather, it’s that the already existing forms of “compensation” (emotional, intrinsic) simply are no longer sufficient. We cannot begin to frame the conversation around compensation in terms of deservedness if administrators view this argument already as easily rejectable and if the superseding crisis takes precedence over it. Attaching ourselves to historicity by saying that “we didn’t need compensation in the past” are, to be frank, famous last words.

These administrators are not uncaring – they have a job to do and a budget to keep in mind. The frustrations I experienced were addressed fairly and extensively throughout the meeting, and I bring them up not to attack any individuals. Rather, addressing these underlying mentalities is critical in ensuring that this kind of crisis does not happen again. Progress is being made; this progress displays an integral and praise-worthy willingness to address the problems of this system together. The dollars we request for these issues have to be weighed against other initiatives of the school, such as financial aid. At the same time, we need to keep in mind the futurity of these discussions and this system.

The reason I write this, then, is twofold. One, I am a human prone to faults in logic or oversight. The stances that I have taken ought to be refined, and I invite anyone to please speak with me. I must reemphasize: compensation is not the only track to alleviating the crisis of this system, but it is an important one. The second is a matter of accountability and transparency. While the majority of these discussions have already happened, I hope that, as a community, we will help to keep one another and administrators accountable to the commitments we’ve made. We’ve taken these tasks up by volition, but if it were not for us, these problems would go unaddressed. Yes, this work is hard, but we have to keep doing it. There won’t be any work left to do if we don’t.

Jamal Meneide ’19 is from Boston, Mass. He is an English and political science double major. 

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