Junior Advisers Adjust to New Guidelines and Limitations

Ellie Wolfe, Assistant News Editor

One of the most important parts of the first-year experience at Bates is fostering a close bond with first-year centers — a process that is encouraged and cultivated by a Junior Advisor (JA).

Although the first-year experience this year is different, JAs are working especially hard to foster a safe and comfortable environment within their first-year centers.

For most JAs, the job started early. Jared O’Hare, a sophomore who is a JA working in Adams, hosted Zoom meetings over the summer in an effort to get to know his first years.

“I was really happy with how the meetings turned out,” he said. “The first one we had about 12 or 13 people out of the 14 living in my hall. I kept it light and played icebreaker games, had introductions, and stuff like that so we could build onto that going into school.”

O’Hare acknowledged the difficulties that the first years are facing, as they are “coming to Bates like no other class has ever done before.”

“There’s a lot more on their plate than normal,” he said. 

First-year students have to navigate the difficult adjustment to college while also social distancing and taking some classes online, which can complicate their first experiences on campus.

One standard activity that first years can normally expect during their first week on campus is to eat meals with their hallmates, something that new restrictions have hindered.

Gabe Alvarez, a sophomore JA in 280 College St., tried to host meals with his first-years but found this to be challenging.

“We are no longer eating meals together,” he said. “We only ever had a few. The different meal times during orientation week made life difficult.”

Students were assigned different meal times based off of their arrival times, making it difficult for JAs to coordinate a group meal.

It was also difficult for O’Hare who was looking forward to sharing meals with his first years.

“It’s one of the biggest disappointments as a JA,” he said. “Not having the ability to walk into Commons and have all our first-year centers sit as one. Not having that space to gather multiple times a day seriously put a dent in our orientation.”

Isaac Williams, a sophomore JA, worked hard to have at least a few meals with the first-years living on his floor in Adams. 

“As kids started to get their negative tests back, I attempted to recreate an element of previous first-year orientations and take them to dinner,” he said. “Breaking it up over two nights, it was really fun to eat in front of [Pettengill] and get face-to-face conversation going.”

Besides eating meals together, JAs are typically a good resource for first-years when they have questions about all aspects of the Bates experience. However, it can be difficult to create a bond where first-years feel comfortable enough asking questions while being socially distant.

Arya Mohanty\Photo Courtesy

Arya Mohanty, a junior, is currently a JA in Page. She acknowledged that it has been complicated to see her first years and is worried that she won’t be able to bond with them like she did with her own JA.

“Since we cannot really do a lot of activities together like eating in Commons and meeting, it makes it a lot harder to get to know each other,” she said. “There are some kids I have probably only seen once [or twice] so far.”

Mohanty added that the lack of common spaces is proving to impede her relationships with the first years on her floor.

“I remember having pretty lengthy conversations with [my JA] in the common room last year and I really do not see that dynamic forming since we don’t really have any shared spaces. It will definitely not be as close of a community,” she said.

Although roommates are still together, O’Hare thinks that not having common areas and not being able to congregate outside in halls and people’s rooms “puts a serious damper on students’ ability to get to know each other.”

With new social distancing guidelines, some first-years feel encouraged to report violations they see around campus, including on their own floor, some JAs said. Despite possible tension, most JAs are not worried.

O’Hare told The Student that the first years living on his floor have all been abiding by the rules.

“Everyone seems to be taking this very seriously,” he said. “They really want to be here and don’t want the start of their college experience to be [like this]. They don’t want to be sent home after coming all this way, and from what I’m seeing, my [first years] are a collective that really want to be here.”

That sentiment was also expressed by Williams.

“Everyone in my [first-year center] has been understanding of the Covid-19 restrictions and wants to look out for each other,” he said. “I think they would rather see each other healthy and happy rather than one of their hallmates getting a write up from Campus Safety.”

Mohanty believes that because first-years tend to be “self-conscious and intimidated,” they won’t call each other out on breaking social distancing guidelines. So far, she said, she hasn’t seen any egregious violations on her floor.

Across the board, the JAs that The Student spoke with have not had to strictly enforce any rules because their first-years have been careful about following guidelines. 

Most JAs are able to arrive on campus and plan lots of fun orientation activities for their first-year centers. The role of a JA is coveted, and those who are accepted into the position look forward to orientation and move in all summer.

Alvarez acknowledged the difficulty and, in some cases, disappointment, of being a JA during these challenging times.

“Almost everything you can think of was delayed or messed up or more difficult,” he said. “Many, many things have been rushed, it feels like, and there are many gray areas and confusing situations that I, and some of my other JA friends, have struggled to navigate.”

Alvarez did state that the Residence Life team has done “exceptionally” well given the circumstances, but said, “it can’t be the same as last year.”

Training was done primarily over Zoom out of necessity to comply with public health regulations. The Residence Life staff prepared lots of training modules for the JAs to review, ranging from conflict mediation to Title IX rules. 

They also had outside speakers come in and run Zoom calls to speak about equity and inclusion, according to O’Hare.

He thinks the hardest part is to know what could have been.

“It’s knowing all that we could’ve done but having to cope with the restrictions that’s hard,” he said. “Knowing that a lot of our programming and a lot of the ideas we worked on in years past aren’t available to us.”

  He added that it is “frustrating at times to know that Bates is such an awesome place where we could really come together, but during this time it’s not a safe possibility.”

Williams also expressed disappointment about the limitations facing JAs.

“I remember last year it was really fun to do all sorts of things with [the] people in my hall that I had never met before,” he said. “Granted, there are still some forms of in-person interaction, but the restrictions make it more stilted and awkward.”

Despite the challenges, Williams is committed to helping his first years as much as possible.

“Parent drop off was really abrupt and jarring compared to other years, and I [can] see how first-years may feel a little out of place,” he said. “With this in mind, I want to do everything I can to make the first-years happy and welcoming in their new home.”