Junior Advisors (JA) have been a cornerstone of first-year residential life at Williams College for the past seventy-seven years. JAs are Williams Juniors who volunteer to live with first-year students and help them acclimate to college life. President Garfield first proposed the idea of an upper-class advisor/mentor living with first-year students in 1925. Garfield made clear the juniors were not to "act as proctors but that they were there simply to guide and aid the new men by precept and by advice. " Junior Advisors are not paid by the college and are not employees or officials of the college. Their role is not that of an in-dorm police or campus security officer. Just as Garfield intended, JAs serve as informal counselors and mediators, but above all JAs are friends, who just happen to know the lay of the land.
President Garfield renovated first-year living at Williams College by creating housing systems presently referred to as "entries", or groups of around 25 first-year students who live in a section of a dorm with two Junior Advisors. Garfield reasoned that "during this first year in college the ground should be kept fertile for the cultivation of the attitude of mind which (Williams) seek(s) to establish," and that "the guidance of selected juniors" would acquaint the entering class "not only with the ideals of the college but with its highest ideals." From the get-go JAs were required to oversee weekly discussion groups held by each entry, facilitate interaction between men of different backgrounds, foster the exploration of "an interest in questions of which (first-years have) hitherto had little or no knowledge", and serve as role models for students new Williams students.
The age of the fraternities threw some glitches in the path of Junior Advisors, however. JAs faced the hot seat in the late 1950s/early 1960s with accusations of being "rushing tools", or using their advantaged position to recruit the most "desirable" freshmen to their respective fraternity. Problems escalated to the point where the JA selection committee determined the JA class could consist of no more than 4 JAs from the same social unit. The dissolution of fraternities in 1962 returned the role of Junior Advisor from a fraternity spokesperson to the less socially complicated position of "informal counselor" and friend that JAs still hold today.
Support from the college administration has been a constant across the years for Junior Advisors. Along with the support of colleges presidents (after all, President Garfield believed JAs to be of the highest moral character), College Deans have always been supportive of JAs. John Hyde, former Dean of the Freshman Class reminded JAs in 1963 that "It is your personal counsel and example which bear the most weight with the freshmen. Get to know them as quickly and as well as possible," all the while encouraging JAs "to drop by for a chat, for it is only with your help and cooperation that I can perform my duties effectively." The reciprocal relationship between the Deans and Junior Advisors is essential in the success of the JA system.
According to Robert C.L. Scott, former Dean of First-Year students, "judgment, responsibility, job interest, a desire to work with people, and an ability to project oneself to understand and sympathize with freshman" are qualities necessary for a Junior Advisor. Furthermore, JAs are capable and trained to point first-years to available resources on campus if serious problems arise. As Williams has grown in size and diversity, so too has the role of the JA class. Now, Junior Advisors must be able to make ties with students of all genders and sexual orientations, domestic and international students, and students of all religions and ethnicities. Mentoring and mediating have stood the test of time since the 1920 and still are an active part of being a JA, but the role has broadened, grown, and evolved along with the College. Each Junior Advisor brings a different, valuable perspective on academic, social, and extracurricular aspects of life at Williams College.