JA Confidential #1: “All the confusion…will get better”

Editors Note: Although everybody has a Junior Advisor as a freshman at Williams, very few people actually know what it is like to be one. To that end, the Williams Alternative presents “JA Confidential”–a series of off-the-record conversations with current JAs about life at Williams as a Junior Advisor.

Williams Alternative: Thanks a lot for sitting down with us. Let’s just start at the beginning, what were you thinking about and feeling on the night before the frosh showed up and your JA-hood began in earnest?

Junior Advisor: We had gone through so many weeks of training, I was mostly just excited to be done with training and couldn’t wait for the frosh to come. I guess the reality of things was a little nerve-racking, but I was distracted by the task of decorating the common room.

WA: Was there any sense of “oh shit what have I gotten myself into?” or just almost entirely excitement?

JA: Almost entirely excitement. The nervousness came from a few places though. When we all applied to be JAs in the winter, JAing was so theoretical. I had done so much thinking about what I believed an entry should be, and how JAs should play into that. It’s remarkably hard to keep those things in mind the night before the frosh come. Training can make you get stuck in the nitty gritty of things, but ultimately, I had this realization that it wasn’t time to be theoretical or nitty gritty anymore.

JAing is all kind of instinct, and I crossed my fingers that all the training and theoretical thinking had sunk in. So I guess you could say there is a sort of powerlessness. I realized in full that it was the frosh who would control how the entry would turn out, not me.

WA: That’s interesting, have you found in practice, even at this early stage, that you have had to take a back seat in guiding the entry along, and just let the freshmen do their thing?

JA: Definitely. During First Days, my co and I decided to be a big presence in guiding our frosh. While there is still a lot that we organize for the frosh, we’re definitely trying to push them towards doing some of the planning/figuring out their questions themselves. At the end of the day, I think we both have a pretty active leadership style, so we are both still very present in the entry.

WA: So that seems more like a active decision to step back (in some regards) rather than powerlessness that you mentioned earlier.

JA: Yeah absolutely. I think the powerlessness is a figment of the “what have I gotten myself into” phase. I have since realized that in the grand scheme of things, it is absolutely my frosh who control how this entry will turn out. In the moment, my co and I have a huge amount of influence in terms of setting the tone for social and academic life at Williams.

WA: In what ways does your influence manifest itself, that is, what sort of actions do you make on a daily basis that you think affect the way your frosh engage with Williams?

JA: I think the frosh still look up to us as role models. When it comes to the entry as a space, we really control the tone of conversations and the ground rules of our living area. When it comes to academics, I check up on many of them every day asking about their classes. I think some of them are still having a hard time thinking of us in academic terms, since our role has been so social for the past few weeks. Just seeing my co and me sit in our rooms and do work has definitely helped set the academic tone of this school.

In terms of mental health and self care, I think my co and I have tried to make an influence. We’ve discussed in every entry meeting that freshman year is a big adjustment year. We have emphasized how important it is for the frosh to take time for themselves, to get themselves in somewhat of a routine, to eat right, sleep right, and relax when they need it. It’s not much, but I think reaffirming these ideas at every entry meeting has really helped them realize that they aren’t going through all this alone, and that all the confusion in their lives will get better.

WA: That sounds like the sort of thing you would learn about in training. Have there been other instances you were thankful for the training you had, and perhaps moments when the training fell short?

JA: In training, we definitely did have a few days where we concentrated on mental health. This specific implementation, however, is definitely something that my co and I came up with and decided to do. If it’s successful, we’ll definitely spread the word to other JAs.

I have absolutely been thankful for the training. I think all the people selected as JAs could be thrown into an entry without training and things would turn out fine. The training really helps round out a lot of the soft skills required for JAing. Every day, it helps me recognize situations and conversations that I want to proceed a certain direction. It also unifies the JA class and sets a lot of the standards of the JA system.

WA: So any moments of “oh god what the hell do I do now?”

JA: Without training, there would be a lot more of those moments. Training really taught me to take those moments and think about them more rationally. So when those “oh god” moments happen, I take a second to myself and then decide how to proceed. Sometimes that might be tapping my co on the shoulder and brainstorming together. Sometimes I just take action. JA training really helps get you through those situations rationally.

WA: Transitioning a bit, in what ways has being a JA, thus far anyway, met your expectations and in what was has it differed?

JA: I tried my hardest not to have expectations for the entry other than having a respectful environment. There were many things I hoped for. I’m not sure how successful I was keeping my “hopes” and “expectations” separate in my mind; regardless, the entry has exceeded expectations and has been what I hoped for and beyond.

I can’t really think of any ways that it has differed from expectations. I was definitely surprised with how great the personalities in my entry were (and continue to be), but I didn’t have expectations for what the personalities would be.

WA: I guess the last question, then, is how does living in an entry as a JA contrast to living there as a freshman, and then living in an upperclassmen dorm?

JA: In terms of being a JA, it’s still difficult for me to convince myself that I’m older than them. I still remember walking into my entry so vividly. Living in an entry as a JA is categorically different than living in an entry as a frosh. I think it has a lot to do with how experienced I am with this school already. On a maturity level, two years is not really that big of a difference. I’ve absolutely changed during my time at Williams, but I will still admit that my frosh are in the same stage of life as me. I am, however, two years more acquainted with Williams than they are. I feel much more at home and at peace with this school. I have my support networks, my “family away from home”, my academic aspirations, and my snackbar order figured out.

Freshman year is so full of swings and complicated feelings. I have no doubt that this year will come with its fair share of those for me, but I am much better equipped to deal with them after two years at this school.

WA: That’s great. Thanks so much for sitting down with us.

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