HCs adjusting to changing requirements of social role

Last Spring, the newly created House Coordinator (HC) position drew ire from many students who felt the position was ill-defined, lacked accountability and was far too lucratively compensated. At present, however, those chosen to be HCs face a new kind of challenge. After the new HCs entered into a binding agreement with the College, they contend, members of the administration changed certain aspects of the HC job description to create more rigidly defined and better-enforced responsibilities. While most HCs accept these new responsibilities, and enjoy the job so far, some have expressed concern over the way in which the administration handled the changes.

Decisions are being made this week on a second round of HC hirings, and these new applicants have a clearer picture of the job they’re applying for than those hired last spring. “None of us really had a concrete idea of what we’d be doing,” Adam Grogg ’04, HC of Bryant House, said.

The initial proposal, which came out last March and was based partly on a similar system in place at Amherst College, drew fire from many students for creating a position with little accountability and excessive rewards. No specific requirements were put in place for house activities, but the HCs were nevertheless to be compensated with half a TA’s salary and first choice of rooms in the house to which they were assigned for themselves and their friends. At that point, the job description was to a large degree subjective.

“Most people thought it was all about social planning,” Grogg said.

Applications were considered by a 12 member group, comprised of nine students, Jeanne Thorndike, director of campus safety, Norma Lopez, assistant dean of the College, and Rich Kelley, activities coordinator. Accepted candidates were notified on March 15, with the new system essentially set once room draw for the rest of the student body was completed. At that point, however, the newly selected HCs were still faced with a nebulous future position.

“In April. . .the role of the HC was very undefined,” said Denise Nunes ’05, Tyler Annex HC. When the HCs met for initial training the week after May finals, many were caught off guard. Over the next two months, according to Thorndike, “the former House Presidents really worked on the job description and created the specific requirements for the HCs. Rich Kelley, Norma Lopez and I worked with the [former House Presidents] throughout the process.”

“What I heard the House Presidents say over the past several years was that they needed more attention and support from the administration, outside of their Housing structure,” Kelley said. “In addition, the House Presidents wanted the new HCs to be seen as different from House Presidents. The old House Presidents were simply social planners, and not really house advocates or leaders/representatives.”

The HCs now had “specific responsibilities,” which included planning a minimum of six house activities a semester, one from six of the following eight categories: “one intra-house event, one activity with a Faculty Associate, one community service program, one educational program, for example involving issues of race, gender, sexuality, religion or class, one career related program, one athletic or intramural event, one health and wellness program and one social and recreational event.”

“When we looked at that we were all baffled,” Grogg said.

“When we first were told about the requirements, people were kind of mad, surprised and anxious,” Kara Weiss ’05, one of the two Dennett House HCs, said. “There was definitely a reaction.”

However, the administrators on the newly formed “Campus Life Team,” Thorndike, Kelley, Lopez and Donna Denelli-Hess, health educator, proved willing to negotiate, and the job description was altered to its present form, with a minimum of four activity categories needing to be filled, rather than the original six.

“We had a little bit of input,” said Danni Lapin ’03, Spencer House HC.

The specific requirements turned the HC position into a more time-consuming and difficult role than most of those hired had expected when they applied.

“I didn’t think we should have gotten paid when I was applying, but since it’s gotten more specific, I’m very glad we’re getting paid. It’s taken away from my ability to work my other job,” Lapin said.

The HCs are being paid $67 every two weeks for their work. For those who are trying to work another job simultaneously to fulfill financial aid requirements, Lapin said , the more time-consuming nature of the specific requirements has made the situation very difficult.

And while over time, most of the HCs have accepted the new requirements, “calmed down and decided to charge on it and do their best,” some still see problems with the feasibility of the specific requirements system put in place in May, Weiss said.

“Some of these events will be difficult to plan in a house environment,” Grogg said, and mentioned the educational program involving race, gender and class as a prominent example. In addition, some say the specific requirements create a situation in which HCs have little time and incentive to plan the social events their houses really want since they are already occupied with filling their requirements.

“It creates tension, because we have this minimum number of things we have to accomplish, and if we want to do things that don’t count as requirements, we wouldn’t get credit for them,” Weiss said.

Four new Community Life Coordinators (CLCs) were hired over the summer to oversee, among other responsibilities, the work of the HCs. Each CLC is in charge of the HCs of a specific area of campus, and HCs meet with their CLC’s weekly. The HC reaction to the CLC’s has been overwhelmingly positive so far.

“CLCs offer us an invaluable amount of support,” Nunes said.

In addition, the CLCs make sure the HCs are fulfilling the specific requirements. It remains unclear what the consequences are for failing to do so. Since top choice of room is an integral part of HC compensation, it is possible that dismissal could result in the loss of room, and exile to an undesirable room left vacant in the housing draw.

“I think the system of checks and balances (involving the CLCs) is too strong to get to the point of getting kicked out of one’s room,” Lapin said.

The specific requirements were not the only unexpected aspect of their position that the HCs encountered when they reported to training in May.

“The most shocking thing was the training itself,” Grogg said.

At that point, many of the HCs considered social planning to be the limit of their new job. They were taken aback by extensive training on issues such as conflict resolution, eating disorders and alcohol and drug abuse. Many drew the inevitable comparison to Junior Advisor (JA) training, although the administrators on the Campus Life Team strongly discouraged making that connection. Nevertheless, many new HCs at least temporarily overwhelmed. “[The training] scared a lot of people. It went from the idea of the role of the HC as social planning to more looking after the house,” Grogg said.

He added, however, that the more intense aspects of training were probably necessary, because of the evolving nature of the position. In their first year on the job, it is impossible to forecast everything the HCs will encounter and have to deal with.

Although some HCs still have concerns about aspects of the development of their job description, most seem fully committed to the challenges that lie ahead, as they work to further define a position entirely new to the College. Indeed, the specific requirements may have the unintended benefit of dispelling the opinion, held by many la
st spring, that the HC position is unaccountable to the student body and excessively rewarded. HCs must now work hard for their money.

“It’s a lot more than I expected, but I love it,” said Lapin.