Lamenting JAAB’s decision: The dangers of sweeping changes

A little over a year ago, with 30 seconds remaining to choose whether to accept my Junior Advisor (JA) offer or to spend a semester abroad, I flipped a coin. It turned up heads. That kicked off a beautiful, terrifying, haunting, life-changing roller coaster. Many people envision being a JA as a sacrificial role wherein you trade your own happiness to serve others. This is certainly the reality for some JAs. In my case, however, being a JA has foundationally altered the way I view myself and those around me, and I would do it again in a heartbeat.

As a result, I lament the fact that so many are passing up the opportunity to potentially feel the magic that has defined my experience. Unfortunately, the Junior Advisor Advisory Board (JAAB)’s decision to expand entries to 40 first-years with three to four JAs per entry is also lamentable. The impossibility of JAAB’s situation is clear; it needed to balance the competing interests of the deans, the JA selection committee (SelCom) and the JA class itself. No choice it could have made would have pleased everyone. However, in settling on a complete overhaul of the system, it essentially amputated the leg of a system with a minor infection and unilaterally altered a core building block of the campus, a decision made without input from the innumerable stakeholders who have an interest in the well-being of the College.

As for better solutions, I have no intention of making preliminary judgements on the efficacy of having larger entries with more JAs. However, it is the process, not JAAB’s specific solution, that is the most distressing. In back-to-back years, fundamental changes have been made to the JA system without input from the campus community. While last year’s change (ending the gender binary) was a step in the right direction, it revealed JAAB’s willingness to make sweeping changes without community input. In hindsight, it hinted at JAAB’s capacity to overstep its authority. As an advisory board, JAAB is expected to assist and make decisions in the interest of JAs, a role that most students at the College will never fill. Conversely, nearly every student has an entry experience, and for many, that experience is foundational in building their identity and relationship with the College. Indeed, for some students, the entry system was also critical in choosing Williams over other colleges. Therefore, relying solely on JAAB, a group made up exclusively of current and former JAs, leaves a small body that is not wholly representative of the campus community to make decisions that fundamentally alter the experiences of hundreds of incoming first-year students. Instead of an open, transparent process, JAAB announced the solution to a problem just as the campus learned that there was a problem. This left no time for students, faculty, staff and alumni to voice their concerns or propose alternative solutions.

In addition, JAAB has gone to great lengths to ensure that people who apply for the role of JA understand some of the potential challenges of being a JA. And yet, in back-to-back years, JAAB has haphazardly and unilaterally implemented sweeping changes that leave those who applied with an entirely different job description than the one they had expected. If it is so important that prospective applicants understand the potential trials that one can go through as a JA, shouldn’t it be equally important that JAAB hold up its end of the bargain and ensure that potential JAs have certainty about what the structure of their entries will be?

As opposed to sweeping and foundational alterations to the system, a little bit of creativity could have allowed for a year of relative normalcy to reflect on the future of the JA role. For example, JAAB could have, after explaining the shortfall, opened applications to seniors or sophomores, allowing students who could not resist the possibility of going abroad during their junior years to be JAs. Alternatively,  JAAB could have reached deeper into the existing applicant pool, offering the position to those who had previously been turned away. By adopting one of these temporary solutions, JAs and JAAB would have had an entire year to highlight the numerous positives associated with being a JA in the hopes of increasing applications. Unfortunately, these options violate the autonomy and sanctity of SelCom. However, if that was a concern, why not turn to the current JA class, 52 previously-SelCom-vetted, grizzled veterans that will be on campus next year? Perhaps JAAB feared criticism on grounds of inequity or feared that the JA role was so onerous that no one would dare sign up for another rodeo. I cannot speak for my fellow JAs, but I know that if JAAB came knocking on my door, there would be one more JA to the class of 2022.

Rainer Wasinger ’19 is an economics and environmental studies double major from Boulder, Colo.

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