Early last fall, a group of first-year students who didn’t know each other very well walked to the tennis courts carrying large posters and wearing as much purple and gold as they could find. They settled on the grass and cheered as loudly as they could for their classmate, Maya. Together they were part of a budding community known as an entry—a defining part of the Williams residential experience in which first-years are divided into groups of 20 to 30 to live together in a section of a dormitory with two Junior Advisors, or JAs.
“The entry is a great place to feel comfortable and make your home at Williams so that you can branch out and join other things,” says the JA who organized the rally, Sam Tripp ’14. Sam helped his first-years make the signs, and he was right there alongside them, cheering for Maya in her first college tennis match. He says the entry system—which dates back to 1925—is what makes Williams special.
JAs carry on—and help shape—the traditions, goals, and ethos of Williams. Among other things, they’re counselors, mediators, and friends to the students in their entries.
“It’s one way to make a more positive campus culture,” says Tripp, co-president of the JA advisory board that recently held spring training for next year’s JAs. If JAs do their jobs well, the culture that develops in entries permeates campus over time, Tripp says.
Fellow advisory board co-president Louisa Lee ’14 loved the tradition of Snacks, in which each entry gathers every Sunday night at 10. “We went around giving our highs and lows of the week, so they had a chance to talk about what was going on—the good and the bad,” she remembers. Louisa says she became a JA because “the experience is quintessentially Williams.”
David Johnson ’71, dean of first-year students, agrees. “No other college does this,” he says, adding that the JA roles are highly coveted.
President Adam Falk said he was surprised to learn in coming to Williams a few years ago just how sought-after these demanding—and unpaid—positions are. “It says a lot about this place, and it says a lot about all of you,” he told the JAs in training this May.
Spring training takes place over four days after classes and exams have ended. By this time, JAs know where they will be living, and they’ve started to get to know their “co”—the other JA assigned to their entry—through an experience called “JA dating” (actual dating among JAs is seriously not recommended). The advisory board organizes and runs the training, sharing their own experiences and hosting sessions on such topics as sexual assault awareness and mental health concerns, as well as offering advice on where to turn in an emergency and how to take care of themselves and their frosh. Rising JAs will return for the second half of their training in late summer, a week before first-years arrive.
Dean of the College Sarah Bolton echoed the voices of many folks involved in the training when she thanked the soon-to-be JAs for “walking with our first-years through this experience.”
Eddie Kelly ’15, who’ll live in Armstrong 3 with his co-JA Maggie Hughes next year, says his biggest take-away from training was in realizing the many resources available to them. “We’re so lucky at Williams to have access to a stellar cast of staff and faculty,” he says. “Moreover, this week has reminded me how incredible my peers are, and how lucky I am to have them.”