Editor’s Note: In an effort to promote face-to-face conversation about important topics, the Williams Alternative presents “Williams Alternative Discusses”–a series of on-the-record group discussions about issues relevant to campus life.
For our discussion on the Entry System, we invited Alex Foucault, ’15, Varun Bhadkamkar, ’17, and Emily Fox, ’15, to share their thoughts and experiences. The unedited transcript of the conversation, moderated by Quentin Cohan, ’17, appears below.
Quentin Cohan: So the first question I’ll send to Alex, since he’s the only one among us who’s lived for two years in an entry. The question is then, what do you think is the function of entries?
Alex Foucault: Entries?
AF: I think they’re a way to make freshmen feel more at home and at ease with the Williams community in general. I think that in the most, kind of, idealized version maybe that it becomes like a second home. But I think in a maybe more realistic, and a maybe better way of thinking about it, that’s just it’s a place where you live and there’s some overriding people there but with a bit of a support system. So you can feel more confident to go out and try new things in the Williams community.
QC: Do you guys have any thoughts to add to that? Any other definitions, functions, uses?
Varun Bhadkamkar: I think it can be like a good support net for like when things get bad, at least you’ve got this backup. You’ve got your JAs to go to. JAs are really good resources to like connect you to other sources of support.
QC: You’re saying like if you’re having a tough time.
Emily Fox: I agree with those broadly. I think it’s also meant to facilitate some of our larger objectives for having a cohesive community which I think it does do, but one of the other functions which I think is not so positive is this support system kind of turning into a crutch for a lot of students and while that makes an initial transition easier, it often operates not so great.
AF: I completely agree with that. No, I think that’s the problem. I think that’s maybe the biggest problem with the JA system is that students come in and the first thing they see freshman year is two juniors waiting to welcome them with open arms and be there for anything and stuff like that, and so I think that that, think it distorts what is probably the best things as kind of just a home base. I do agree JAs should, and the entry itself, should be a support system but I think it should be more spread out amongst the entry. Right, you’ve got 20 people there and the JAs are just two years older.
I mean everyone has life experiences. Everyone can be a support. The JAs just are more versed in how Williams can support you I think. I think the problem is people go in with either too high expectations, that can be JAs or entries or frosh, and I think it can, like Emily said, I think it can become a crutch sometimes that a lot of people to use the entry, or especially JAs, as tools.
VB: I was talking to a freshman a week ago who was saying how impressed they were that there JAs never deal with like the petty shit from their entry, like their JAs really separate themselves from that; because people should honestly work out for themselves roommate issues, work out like this, that and the other. It’s like the more serious mental health issues where JAs can help correct.
QC: Emily were you saying that you thought the JAs were a crutch or that the entries as a whole were a crutch? Cause seems like Alex is saying the JAs.
EF: Both. So I see that being twofold. One with the JAs as Alex is saying being a cutch and that comes into play where I think a lot of freshmen lose accountability for taking care of one another because they know that they have that resource to fall back onto. I mean I’ve even fallen into the trap myself where someone is too drunk and because I don’t want that to impose on my evening I say oh, let me find their JA. And I think that’s like really like a horrible mindset that we kind of like instill by having these people who should more so be a role model. With it being like a crutch in terms of kind of a social fallback, I’d say my personal experience, the best thing about my entry was that I didn’t click very strongly with many individuals.
And so I had to branch out to find people who were going to be my closer friends. I think other people have experiences where they really connect with their entry and then become like in a sense, trapped in a comfort zone where they don’t branch out and don’t necessarily learn how to interact with peers in a college setting.
QC: Yeah I totally agree. I feel like my major qualm with the entries is that it seems like people kind of just take it. Like obviously at the beginning it’s very helpful because nobody knows anybody, especially if you’re not on a team. So then they take it at the beginning but then they just kind of become reliant on it. And rather than branching out as Emily’s saying, to find new people that you might be really good friends with, you kind of just take the people that you’re given in entry and you’re like happy enough with them as your friends.
And it doesn’t really matter if you’re 5 to 10 best friends are the people who you were assigned to live with at beginning of freshman year, like that’s great. It doesn’t really matter who your friends are, but it does seem odd to me that the administration or admissions, or whoever assigns the entry is going to get it right for so many people.
AF: I think I like the word taking, because I feel like a lot of freshmen go in and they take from the system and they don’t give back. Right and so what Emily, I think what Emily was saying, is that they’re not in a mindset to give back to each other and they’re just kind of taking the resources from it and that creates a kind of poisonous community.
QC: You were a JA so are there any ways in which you found freshmen took?
AF: Well I mean it’s just like, it’s little things that kind of build up and it’s just a mentality really. It’s little things like just constantly asking people how do I sign up for various classes or like where is this building or something like that. It’s little things that, are, like, independent adults should be able to do, especially when there’s a map right behind them that they are standing in front of. But that’s little things. I don’t know, but I think that, in a solution sense, like I think what Varun is saying is that, I think it, the onus kind of comes down to the JAs to not put up with that kind of–those little things, to create a sense of no, you can figure this out. Like you don’t have to need, you don’t need me and like yeah I’m here for you.
But like I have my own life. I’ve got other things to do and I don’t need to worry about your little stuff. I just wanna make sure that everyone’s safe and happy but like I don’t have to worry about, like you said, petty stuff.
VB: I think it’s the role of like everybody in the entry to–all the frosh should be responsible for maintaining a good group dynamic. I think what ends up happening a lot of times is it becomes the role of the JAs to help maintain a good group dynamic. I think that’s really an ineffective way of running an entry. And I think everybody in the entry should be thinking about how they respect other people that they live around, and obviously the JA system can flip in directions where the JAs become these things.
QC: So do you think it’s the JA’s job to try and create a strong entry dynamic, like a strong entry bond? Or do you think it should be just up to the kids and the JAs are there just to be role models, or to help them with their serious, as you said, mental health issues?
VB: I think it’s the JA’s responsibility to make sure that everybody’s respecting the people that they’re living around, and then after that it’s up to the kids to decide how they want to interact with each other necessarily.
QC: So do you think there needs to be as much entry pride as there is? Anybody can answer that.
EF: I think so. I think like an added role of JAs, which I think is in place now, is like kind of modeling the way that people should interact socially, whether that’s partying, whether that’s like sitting down and having a conversation, whether that’s watching a movie. And I think that’s probably one of like the best things about the entry system. We definitely can point out the problems, but systematically I don’t know of a way to concretely change the design of it and I think like the fostering of these early enjoyable social experiences for people that is diverse is what works the best.
AF: Yeah I definitely agree. I think the role modeling, it’s just like modeling behavior and, like you said Quentin, like it’s 20 people who are kind of more or less randomly put together by admissions and deans. So the likelihood, like maybe not all groupings are going to follow those kind of ideals of community that we want them to, but I think you can model that as much as you can and sometimes it just doesn’t work out and that sucks, but like I know that there were entries, I guess not this year, but the year before that where JAs–I knew that their policy was trying to get, eventually get the frosh to call each other out on things that like it’s “yo, that’s like not how we act around here.” Like creating that culture by modeling and showing that it’s okay to call each other out, but then also the frosh can have initiative and saying like what we want this community to look like, whether it’s the smaller community of the entry or the larger community of Williams. I think they are just as equal parts so I agree with Emily. I think the modeling is the best way of doing it and I think it’s really hard.
EF: Something that I question though is often when entries don’t click. I think JAs in some ways like feel like that’s kind of like a small failure on their part which I don’t think should be the case. But it is this weird question of like should the main goal be like make this group of people really get along well–and that’s obviously not feasible in probably the majority of cases. But it is kind of weird that, because that’s something that we ask JAs to facilitate, when it doesn’t happen they feel like they haven’t done their job.
VB:Yeah I mean I think that’s really tough to manage though because a lot of JAs go into the job with a dream of having an entry that like gets along. I think that sounds appealing to anybody who would be going to that position.
QC: Yeah why wouldn’t you want them to all get along?
VB: I think it’s just bridging, like making sure they identify that as a dream, or the cherry on top, as opposed to an expectation, is really important. Like they should not expect that the entry clicks. They should expect that the entry is functioning, is respectful.
AF: Yeah James Hitchcock wrote really nice e-mail, not like public or anything, but like to a couple people, about expectations. And I think that’s key, right? It’s key that both the JAs and the frosh go in with realistic expectations. And I think that I mean, as a member, I guess former member of JAAB, that’s kind of something that we emphasize in training but is still really hard–like Varun is saying–like to not want to go in and like have 20, 25 people who are like really happy to be there and be there together. But I think it’s much healthier if you go in with lowered expectations of this is just a place where people live and we can get along and we have to respect each other. I think that’s key.
But I think also that the frosh have understandable expectations. And so I don’t know if that means that like admissions needs to convey better, like before they even get there what an entry is or if there needs to be a more kind of standardized way of JAs introducing the concept of an entry like right at the beginning of the year. I think there’s a lot of interesting things there but I think both sides need to have managed expectations.
QC: it seems like you guys are all saying that the best, that the goal of what an entry should be is certainly not what most people perceive it to be. So why is that people get so like excited about their entries, like “oh I’m so happy that I love my entry so much” when it seems like everyone’s saying the entry should be like the goal of the entry should just be that you get along with the people and that there are no major issues.
EF: I don’t know if getting along is the main goal. But I will say, as Alex was mentioning, when I showed up for previews, like the entry system was sold to me as this, already perfectly situated ecosystem that’s going to welcome you with open arms and in no way was I ever told that my contribution was going to be a necessary part of sustaining that. And I think that’s what we’re missing out on. I think that, as opposed to getting along, should be the goal. Everyone should say like hey, I’m an individual in this like bigger thing if I’m not like there to like give my two cents or to stand up for what I believe in, like it’s essentially going to devolve into something that’s not what we want.
QC: So you’re saying the entry shouldn’t necessarily be unconditional love.
EF: Yeah, I don’t think it should be unconditional love.
AF: But I think back to you, like why do people want this amazing entry where, I think it’s like human nature. You want to be–this is the people you’re living with right? You’re living with these 20 people, you want to come back and feel like you belong to a place and that they want you there as well and that it’s really fun to go back to. And I think that’s just, I think you find that with the people you end up living with, sophomore, junior and senior year, right, you want your suite mates or your housemates to want you to be there and you want to want them to be there.
QC: With those people in the later years of college you have chosen to live with them. So obviously you’d want them to value but with people in your entry it’s just totally random. So why, well say you’re in Sage F for example, why do you need to be loved by the people in Sage F when maybe your best friends might be in Sage E, Willy D and M2.
AF: Well definitely at the beginning it seems like it’s like you just left everything. I mean just like this is the first, potentially the first time, you’ve ever lived alone. People like love to feel accepted. And then as long as there’s any entry that looks like it’s more cohesive and more kind of unified and having more fun than yours, then you want that. I mean it’s just like the grass is greener on the neighbor’s lawn. It just takes one.
VB: Everything he said.
QC: I guess I was thinking it’s a little silly, because I feel like the entry kind of traps you into wanting a really tight entry, for all the reasons you guys have laid out, all in perfect sense, when in reality you might be better off if you, instead of trying to have a really tight entries, met people in various entries who you become really good friends with, have a really tight group with them.
VB: I think it’s easy to forget that you might have people who could be great friends with you who are outside of your entry, and it’s easy to forget that because you live with your entry. It’s like just what is convenient to you. So even last year when my entry wasn’t getting along that great, it was really hard for me to separate myself from them because I was just like a huge inconvenience for me to just like break apart.
QC: The problem is that convenient isn’t always best.
EF: But at the same time even if like you do find friends or community elsewhere on campus, I think you still owe it to those group of people that you’ve been placed with to be respectful and to be, a relative presence. I think a lot of people even get to the point where they start to resent their entry, and because it’s not what they want it to be, like at times ignore it or like are disrespectful to it, which is weird because that’s a matter of like comparing it to other things. Yeah I don’t know, I think like in part you owe it to yourself, to like, just, at least participate.
QC: Yeah even if you don’t necessarily or you’re not like best friends with people in your entry, don’t love the whole group, there’s still a level of human decency. You don’t have to be like a jerk and leave stuff in the hallways all the time or like not clean up after yourself.
AF: I think it’s interesting, I think the part of like owing it to the rest of the entry, I think is really important. Lke frosh will talk about sometimes a JA hasn’t been, one of their JAs or both isn’t present a lot and they’re kind of getting resentful maybe. But then there’s no expectations that, or there’s sometimes but much lower expectations, of like other freshmen are like present and engaged when they’re there. And I think that’s important that we talk about how it’s a community and everyone has to participate and everyone has to be there.
But I think like there is a big problem of people expecting one thing out of the entry, not getting it and then like, and we said, just feeling alienated from it and feeling like the whole system doesn’t, like, isn’t for them and is kind of designed in a way against them and stuff like that and breeds kind of resentment. And I think it comes from either misplaced expectations or that it wasn’t kind of explained well or introduced well in the first place. And that I guess creates mis-expectations. But and I think that can be a big thing in working to build our community as a whole. I think the entry system can be a divisive issue for a lot of people like when people have a lot of poor opinions about it. And I wonder if changing the expectations would help that.
EF: Something that I’ve been toying with is making it so that the entry system is something you have to elect into. I imagine more than 50 percent of people would do it. But if it’s laid out for you what the entry system is and what role you would play in it, and then you’re given the decision to say yes I would want to live in that sort of group. Maybe that would change how people approach it. Otherwise I guess people would be put in regular dorm housing like assigned a roommate through the same like pairing system. But by having to like actually sign onto something I feel like people would go in with a different expectation.
VB: I think that’s interesting although I think the reason a lot of people pick Williams is because is they think like entry system is really attractive. I think that would be a really cool experiment at a bigger school, like a big state school, something like that.
QC: What I was going to say is do you guys think you’d be better of if the entry system were reduced, or modified in some way, or if it was totally done away with? I mean I feel like, just because of the whole crutch element, it’d be students could be better off, probably worse off in the beginning but better off in the long haul if it was just like you lived still maybe in Frosh Quad or Mission but you weren’t in, like you still live in Willy B, but it wouldn’t be like “Willy B.” It would just be Williams Hall B entrance. And then you would just kind of be forced to meet people yourself.
AF: I think the goals of creating a community through kind of little smaller communities, I think it has a lot of value to it–especially for a small kind of residential college like this, to have at least something that everyone went through. I think it has a lot of value. I mean I think that we should have a lot more of stuff that like everyone else goes through and a lot more–I think right now there’s like, this is a whole other discussion, but I think doing away with the entry system, I think it should be modified maybe or just tweaked a bit or the way it’s presented or something like that in the way it’s enacted. But I think it has a lot of value and like Varun said, I think it distinguishes Williams and its kind of traditions from a lot of other colleges. Whether that’s superficial or not I don’t know.
VB: By in large the entry system is effective, and I think if it weren’t effective it would’ve been gone a long time ago. And there still is something fun, even people who didn’t enjoy their entries, there’s still something fun when you meet like a graduate who comes from that, it’s like “oh you were in my entry.” There’s something really exciting about that, that you’re part of something larger.
QC: I guess another problem I have with it is that, so at Williams we don’t frats, because it was seen as dividing people and creating groups within campus that are exclusive. And some people say that sports teams kind of operate like frats. I personally don’t really buy into that, but I feel like entries kind of operate in a similar level also because if you’re not in X, if you’re like in Y entry it’d be very hard to break into X entry. So that is in a sense a way that kind of divides people rather than just like letting everybody be together, and meet people as they will. I don’t know if you have any thoughts.
EF: I think that’s something that individuals need to overcome. I lived in Sage D and I found myself going to mission all the time. And yeah, sometimes it was tough like going into entries that were really close and like being the new kid who wasn’t there before. But I don’t think they’re exclusive to the point where you feel you can’t go into other entries.
QC: I don’t think it’s exclusive to the degree that like a frat is at other schools, but I do think there’s an element of that.
AF: There’s an element of sectioning off, but I think that that’s part of an entry’s job is to be welcoming. And be included that it’s, that the entry isn’t really just kind of–I think the more it becomes sectioned off then the more it’s like a perversion of the entry system and not actually kind of what it’s intended to be.
VB: And I think compared to other schools it sections off incoming freshmen less than for example like bunch of people living in a hallway, because, I mean thinking about my friends, they make, maybe a core group of friends of about five people who might live around them. And the entry system forces you at least to have a core group of around 25 and that’s automatically something larger than you would’ve gravitated to if you were just living in like a random hallway.
QC: Yeah that is definitely true. I guess transitioning a little bit, as I mentioned earlier you two are, well Varun you’re about to be JA, Alex you were JA, Emily you were not, and we’ll get to you. I guess if you guys could say what made you apply to be a JA.
VB: I mean I still don’t know entirely how to answer. It’s just I think it just makes me excited to be a role model for a bunch of incoming frosh, to show that what makes William so exciting. Yeah and I think there’s nothing more to be said.
AF: I figure I wanted to help the incoming frosh figure out what Williams was all about, and I think the modeling that Emily talked about was exciting, to model what–and essentially hold myself to a higher standard–it helped me like okay, every time that I’m on campus now I have to hold myself to a higher standard. And it kind of felt like good to also share that with everyone else.
QC: Okay now turning the spotlight over to Emily. Tell us why you didn’t choose to be a JA or why you didn’t apply.
EF: So I applied and then I withdrew my app a few weeks in. And that was a product of a realization that I had, thinking about my future and my junior year, at that point in time I realized that I really needed time to focus on myself personally, and I saw being a JA as something that would hinder that. I recognize that I’m someone that has a hard time saying no, and I’m not certain I would’ve been able to do what I would want in an entry, by like making freshmen accountable to themselves. So putting myself in a leadership position there I think would’ve been enjoyable, and would’ve fostered a good entry, but would’ve been bad for me. So I turned that down. Had a lot of fear that I would regret it, but found other ways to like use my leadership skills on campus. And so I was happy with that.
QC: So just to poke at what you’re saying a little bit, you’re saying you kinda wanted to focus on yourself?
QC: Do you think that that’s kind of like you’re almost saying, it’s almost a selfish excuse? Just to kind of be a jerk for a little bit, like Varun and Alex, you know they’re already at a place where they didn’t need to focus on themselves anymore and they could turn towards helping freshmen.
EF: I think that like to be a good JA you really should be personally put together, and be at a place where you’re willing to devote your time to other people, but you have, you’ve already gotten to a place where you pretty much know what you want in life and are stable and–I don’t want to throw any statistics out here, because I think like proportionately people take time off like evenly–but I’ve noticed in cases where like people take time off after being a JA. To me that reflects often the entry system being so much of an energy-suck that they need to then put a halt to their educational career and then focus on their, on themselves. And I kind of like projected into the future and realized, wow, if I do this, by the end of my junior year, I don’t think I would’ve done what I needed to for myself. Maybe I’ll have an awesome entry but, I think, a little bit selfishly because I see myself as a priority in this world, need to make sure that I’m stable enough for that and I wasn’t at that point.
AF: I just don’t think there’s anything wrong about making decisions selfishly. I mean I think it makes it–at least for me, I don’t want to put words in the Varun’s mouth–but it makes it sound way too altruistic, the idea of JA-ship, because I think for me, I thought I saw it as, I think as a growing experience as well. It is also a way of kind of really growing as a person, as a leader through that experience. And I saw it that I would get more out of that than going abroad or something like that. So I think that both decisions I think can be selfish.
QC: Yeah definitely. Varun?
VB: Ask me in a year.