Nearing the end of his first year as director of Fraternity and Sorority Life (FSL), Calvin Smith has already made several changes to Hopkins Greek culture, from altering recruitment procedures to supporting the University’s new party registration policy. In an email interview with The News-Letter, he reflected on his performance this year, the current state of Greek life at Hopkins and his hopes for the future.
The News-Letter: How do you think your first year as Greek life director is going?
Calvin Smith:I believe my first year as the director of Fraternity and Sorority Life (FSL) is going very well, though it has certainly been challenging. Many of the challenges I anticipated when I accepted the job have occurred — particularly implementing organizational change. During the fall there was the release of the new Homewood Undergraduate Off-Campus Party Registration and Safety Policy, the Chapter Assessment Program and Hopkins Groups Registration Process.
Additionally, during the fall semester, FSL worked on several procedures to bring consistency, fairness and transparency to the way we operate on campus and define the relationship and partnership the University and the FSL community engage in. Those documents are called the Relationship Statement, the Office of Fraternity and Sorority Life Social Procedures (leadership from each organization was trained on these standards in December and January) and the Hazing Acknowledgement form. We have also launched the “Chapter Conduct & Disciplinary Status” part of the FSL website. All of the information referenced above can be found on the Fraternity and Sorority Life website.
Other items we worked through during the President’s Council Meetings was a new GPA requirement and a standard length of time of initiating new members. We worked with chapter leadership and leadership from national offices to determine what the national standards are for both of these items. As one could imagine, these standards vary from council to council and vary for all 22 of our chapters. We were tasked as an institution to come up with standards that would not be burdensome to our organizations, not adversely impact potential new members, and live within the academic mission of Johns Hopkins University.
After much consultation from all the parties involved we settled on a 2.5 GPA (uncovered) and a six week new member period. [Assistant Director of FSL Tara Fuller] and I are working through these changes with the leadership of the chapters and the community broadly. Of course, there are always challenges one could never anticipate, but for the most part I am happy with the community’s progress thus far.
N-L: Is there anything that you think stands out as challenging or exciting as a result of it being the first year?
CS: The members of our organizations are dedicated and when issues are brought to their attention, many groups are willing to face those issues head-on and begin to make adjustments. I am also excited about how far many of our groups have come since September. Working in Student Affairs is all about student development, specifically, working in FSL gives me the opportunity to work both with students individually as well as organizations more broadly. It is great to see chapters receptive to new ideas, best practices and fresh perspectives. It is always great to see groups apply the knowledge gained to their everyday operations to improve their chapters.
The biggest challenge that stands out to me is navigating the culture at Johns Hopkins. I believe in student and organizational development and its application to individuals and organizations. The difficulty comes when we challenge the norms that have existed over time. It is hard to convince anyone there is a better way to do something if they have never seen it done that way. It is a part of our ongoing mission to apply sound and proven practices while being sensitive to the cultural nuances of the community here.
N-L: Are any Greek organizations going to join FSL in the coming years?
CS: That would be my hope, but for now we are closed to expansion of new fraternities and sororities. We have plenty of work to do with the groups we currently have, but in the future, working with the various councils and the campus community, we would absolutely be open to new organizations.
N-L: We have heard about the addition of a new sorority, is that true? If so, what does the timetable of its creation look like?
CS: I am not aware of a new sorority joining the community.
N-L: Given the lower number of freshmen who participated in sorority recruitment this year, why do you think that additional sororities could be necessary in the future?
CS: The numbers for recruitment were lower. However, recruitment numbers at Johns Hopkins often closely track with the size of the freshman class. When we have larger freshman classes we have larger recruitment classes. The opposite is also true.
Adding a new sorority has very little to do with the recruitment class numbers and more to do with chapter size. Right now Panhellenic has an average chapter size of 168. Of course there are many other factors to consider such as campus climate, student interest, etc., but we like to make sure chapters are at a manageable size. Within the field of fraternity and sorority life advisors the tipping point for chapter size is around 150 members. As you can see we have already surpassed that threshold.
N-L: What was the motivation behind changing the recruitment process this year? What differences do you expect? How do you think people reacted?
CS: The motivation behind changing the recruitment process was to align it with national best practices while taking the campus culture into consideration. These best practices have statistically proven to increase participant numbers over time as well as improve the experience for all of the stakeholders involved. We want to make sure the potential new members are having a great experience, that we are encouraging the chapters to utilize values based recruitment techniques, and if the process works correctly, all potential new members will be placed with the chapters they want and the chapters that want them the most.
We expected to see our retention numbers for potential new members going through the process to increase from the beginning of the recruitment period to the end. We, in fact, did have a higher retention rate this year than we’ve had in the past several years.
Based on the surveys, we have collected from our potential new members, the chapters, the recruitment guides and the potential new members that dropped out of the process, the feedback has been very positive. They have cited that the process is more efficient and organized than in years past.
N-L: How does the presence of underground sororities and fraternities affect the official Greek life process? Do you think the dynamic is changing?
CS: The presence of underground organizations is never a scenario any national organization or University wants. We want all of our groups to work in collaboration with the University and to do so in a healthy, safe and fun manner with integrity. Sometimes situations happen and organizations need to be removed from the campus environment for the overall health of the community. When this happens there can be residual effects from those decisions. My job is to educate our organizations on how to navigate those situations and to put the active chapters in a position to be the best option for any student that is interested in joining a fraternity or sorority.
Absolutely, I believe this dynamic is changing. Many times students don’t understand the unintended consequences of being affiliated with underground organizations or the resources, education, and training they are missing by being affiliated with an active group until the pledge process is complete. It is our job to make sure we promote this message as well as training and teaching active members why they should do the same.
N-L: How do you think that the general direction of Greek life at Hopkins is progressing?
CS: I believe the general direction of fraternity and sorority life and Johns Hopkins is positive. Anytime there is a change of leadership, structure, and/or expectations, there are bound to be some issues. That is a natural consequence of change. Overall we are growing as a community and I expect that we will continue to improve.
N-L: What are you hoping to accomplish over the next year as Greek life director?
CS: Over the next year we want to continue to improve as an office, continue to educate our membership on how to manage and grow their respective chapters and continue to move to a self-governance model in which our organizations are handling issues that arise within the community. Additionally, we would like to see more large scale programming for the community. We want to make sure groups are achieving values congruent with their organization as well as Johns Hopkins University. We know there will be challenges in some areas, but Tara and I are ready to take the challenge head on.