JA Week opens campus dialogue

Last week, the Junior Advisor Advisory Board (JAAB) and the Gargoyle Society co-hosted JA Week, a five-day program made up of a series of events focused on discussing the history and future of the Junior Advisor (JA) system. JA Week was first announced on March 6, the same day that JAAB publicized substantial changes to the structure of the JA system. JA Week consisted of five events: a kickoff-event focused on the constitution on April 2, Frosh Stories on April 3, a JA Alumni Panel on April 4, a Doddceum Dinner on April 5 and a Week Wrap-Up on April 6. These events were bolstered by a social media campaign throughout the week that encouraged people to post JA-related experiences on Facebook and Instagram with the hashtag #realJA.

Tobias Muellers ’18, president of the Gargoyle Society, described the conception of the event. “The Gargoyle Society originally came up with the idea for the event, but from early on, we worked closely with JAAB,” he said. “JAAB and our group met regularly to plan and divide responsibilities for individual events, frequently discussing our overall goals for the week. The final product was made possible by our cooperative effort.”

The first event, the Constitution Kick-Off, consisted of engagement with excerpts of a newly-drafted JA constitution. For Jad Hamdan ’19, co-President of JAAB, this event was one of the most crucial in protecting the future of the JA system. “That event was really important because we’re in the process of formalizing the limits and boundaries of the JA role,” he said. “We now have a preliminary constitution speaking to those responsibilities and expectations. We hope that writing those down will clearly explain the limits of what a JA system should do to the rising JA class as well as the administration.”

For Hamdan, a thorough constitution has the potential to clarify the JA system both to those on the inside and the outside of the system. “This will hopefully make it really clear to outsiders looking in that this is why Williams has such a system, and this is why this system is different from being an RA [Resident Assistant] or a House Coordinator,” he said. This is the first time in the history of the JA system that the formation of such an in-depth constitution has been attempted.

“The kickoff event provided an initial frame for discussion,” Muellers added. “We intended [it] to provide students with an opportunity to engage with the JA constitution, share any feedback that they had and generate momentum for events later on in the week.” Hamdan emphasized that suggestions were carefully collected and will be incorporated into later revisions of the document. “People would write down suggestions and give them to us, and we collected those and are going to work in a couple weeks to distill those and see how they fit into the constitution, which we hope to finish officially by the end of the year,” he said.

Hamdan characterized the feedback as very positive on the whole, but he cited the intersection between the work of the Davis Center and the work of the JA system as an area where people wanted to see expansion. Overall, Hamdan estimated that over 200 people attended the event, and 80 to 100 pieces of feedback were received.

In the second event, Frosh Stories, five students discussed the influences that their JAs had on them in their freshman years: Anna Neufeld ’18, Dorothy Gaby ’18, Neena Patel ’19, Tom Robertshaw ’19 and Morgan Whaley ’20. “JAs can have such a large impact on frosh,” Patel said. “I feel really lucky to have had two fantastic JAs that made my Williams experience what it is as well as inspired me to become a JA. It was fantastic to hear stories from several people about how their JAs have helped them, whether it was through a difficult time or through the little things that they did with and for their frosh.”

Neufeld also tried to communicate the value of the JA system. “One thing I wanted to get across in my story time was that even if I hadn’t happened to become friends with my JAs, I still would have thought they were so important,” she said. “I was just so nervous at the beginning of college about so many small and trivial things, like who to eat dinner with, how to navigate the Paresky line and how to fill up a swipe at Snack Bar and Eco. The fact that I could learn these things from my JAs and that my JAs organized entry dinners so I didn’t have to worry about who to eat with during the first few weeks was so important to me and really eased my transition to college.”

In the third event, the JA Alumni Panel, Jamie Art ’93, Dusty Lopez ’01, Laurel Bifano ’02, Ashley Cart ’05 and Alejandra Moran ’17 shared their experiences being JAs. “That [event] was meant to be a bit more of a distanced perspective of the JA system, helping us to illuminate the distinctions in the JA system over time,” Hamdan said. Discussing his takeaways from the event, he said, “Being a JA has always been hard. That’s the narrative that has continued to be true about the system and that was really true back into the 1990s. The culture of the system may change slightly and the composition of the system has fortunately changed dramatically, but the role itself is still challenging.”

Muellers also found the continuity of the JA system to be a big takeaway. “This event was particularly interesting, at least for me, as our alums shared experiences that directly paralleled JA experiences today, indicating that the system has not changed as much as our rhetoric today suggests,” he said. One difference that did arise out of the conversation, however, was that less focus is spent nowadays on planning events, especially parties, as opposed to in the past.

The fourth and fifth events were meant to wrap up the week with productive dialogue. The Doddceum Dinner in particular was organized to generate conversation between students and administrators. “We had a lot of different campus administrators and perspectives who were really reaffirming the administration’s commitment and desire to support the JA system,” Hamdan said. “There’s this conventional narrative on campus that the administration just wants to take this system away, and that has been revealed pretty consistently as not true… The administration has, especially for JAAB, been extremely at our backs and supportive of us. That became a little bit clearer to the entire campus.” Hamdan and Muellers both reported very high turnout for the Dinner, with the space almost completely filled throughout the duration of the event.

The social media campaign that occurred alongside JA week was also a notable feature of the program. “Beyond the events themselves, the social media presence of the week was much larger than anticipated,” Muellers said. “The prevalence of nuanced, carefully composed and balanced responses with the #realJA hashtag was wonderful to see.” The #realJA hashtag was also used in posters around Paresky, which included quotes from JAs responding to various questions about the system.

For Muellers, the social media campaign was reflective of the overall impact of JA week. “There had been so much existing talk about how to improve the system, and JA Week sought to unify and channel those discussions in a constructive way,” he said. Hamdan also saw the week as a success. “We had an overwhelmingly positive response,” he said. “Yeah, being a JA is really hard, and there are a lot of times where you feel challenged by a lot of different people, but overwhelmingly, the experience has been a very positive one.”

Photo courtesy of Brooke Horowitch/Executive Editor.


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