Justifying the change: JAAB members explain its decision process and next steps

In a year marked by falling application numbers, record-high rejection rates for Junior Advisor (JA) offers and negative campus discourse surrounding the JA system, the endurance of the residential structure that has helped to define the College’s community ethos has been tested. But the concerns that surfaced with new JAs to the Class of 2022 aren’t new. The system has been quietly struggling. This year, that struggle became a lot more audible.

We write, as members of the Junior Advisor Advisory Board (JAAB), to reflect on the events that have occurred recently. We do not represent the opinions of every JAAB member nor any JA class.

In September, JAAB was aware that the dialogue surrounding the JA system was increasingly negative and, accordingly, re-framed interest meetings (once dubbed “scare meetings”). We attempted to provide a more accurate picture of the JA role by talking about highs and lows, but the meetings still struck a negative tone.

While attendance at the meetings was consistent with that of previous years, we received fewer applications than in years past despite reopening applications and extending the deadline. We hoped that the smaller pool was a product of a better understanding of the role and that we would still find at least 52 qualified candidates – and, as we reviewed applications on the Selection Committee (SelCom), we found this to be true. Our goal was to select 52 qualified applicants, and we succeeded.

After extending the decision timeline to a full week, JAAB reached out individually to every accepted candidate to offer congratulations and support through their decision. We hosted a “JA Previews” event to welcome candidates to the role. Our efforts were unsuccessful; we received an unprecedented number of rejections. Our waitlist was ultimately exhausted.

The events unfolding now are products of long-standing problems. The dialogue surrounding the role has been slowly changing, moving towards highlighting the negative aspects of being a JA, including undue emotional labor and marginalization of minority and low-income JAs, among others. This is not to evade or defend these problems. It is not meant to trivialize them by blaming them on simple rhetoric. Rather, we want to convey that these problems are real and have only become more real as it becomes more normalized to speak about the difficulties of being a JA. This dialogue is welcome. JAs should feel comfortable speaking earnestly about their experiences if we are going to change the system for the better.

Going forward, our priorities are twofold: first, ensuring that first-years have an entry as a safe space where they experience some sort of community that connects them to broader campus resources and second, making sure that JAs are tasked with reasonable responsibilities while receiving adequate support from their peers, the administration and JAAB.

We believe that the entry system’s structure next year – double entries with teams of three or four JAs each – will not undermine either of these priorities, but rather will strengthen them. This model is not unprecedented; the system functioned this way as recently as a decade ago.

While low JA numbers prompted this change, we fully expect that it will be positive for JAs and first-years. First, JAs will receive more support from their peers by having more co-JAs, while having more first-years will create a boundary so that JAs cannot be the primary emotional support for all of them. Second, in a larger entry, more first-years may be able to find people they connect with.

It is worth noting that JAAB did not make this change impulsively nor at the exclusion of other options. So many people turned down their JA offers that we could not form a qualified class of 52. Could we have a JA system with fewer than 52 JAs? After careful consideration, we believed that we could and that it was much better than the alternative: an RA [resident assistant] system for first-years.

On this note, we would like to address another possible solution: increasing the number of JAs (through asking seniors to step in, reopening applications, etc.). First, although we knew that past JAs would be willing to step in again – and many expressed willingness to do so – we ultimately decided against it for many reasons. For one, it is unsustainable to rely on this model year-to-year. Furthermore, seniors serving again as JAs introduces a challenging power dynamic to the entry, the co relationship and the system itself.

Although we made efforts to secure more acceptances – such as reaching out to candidates who had turned down the position – we also respected the ability of JA applicants to make their own decisions. Our desire to have a full cohort of 52 JAs was strong, but we recognized the importance of having a class of JAs that actively wanted to serve in the role. Ultimately, we felt that having a smaller but highly qualified class of JAs enthusiastic about the role was more important than fitting the 52-JA paradigm.

Finally, we want to acknowledge that there are many valid criticisms directed at these changes, and at the JA system itself, that we do not have the space to address here. We invite all members of the community to reach out to members of JAAB to further discuss these issues. We also encourage you all to continue this discussion during JA Week, the week of April 2.

Now more than ever, it is crucial that the conversations surrounding the JA system be tackled together by the whole Williams community. Because, at the end of it all, Williams students own the JA system.

Brian Benítez ’18 is an art history and biology major from Naples, Fla. Jad Hamdan ’19 is an economics and political science major from Canton, Ohio. Jesse Facey ’19 is an Arabic studies and Spanish major from North Kingstown, R.I. Emmy Maluf ’18 is an English major from New York, N.Y.

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