Published by the Students of Johns Hopkins since 1896
September 18, 2020

Students reflect on the role of SLI in light of new hire

By LEELA GEBO | March 5, 2020

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COURTESY OF CAROLYN HARRIS

New associate director for leadership development at SLI plans to improve communication with  students.

Carolyn Harris came to Hopkins this January from Florida State University to fill the role of associate director of leadership development for the Office of Student Leadership and Involvement (SLI). She is succeeding Clifton Shambry Jr., who after three years left this position to work with the Office of Diversity and Inclusion in the Life Design Lab. 

Harris’ responsibilities include coordinating the HopkinsLEAD pre-orientation program and advising Fraternity and Sorority Life (FSL) and the sophomore class council of the Student Government Association (SGA). She also oversees leadership development and finances for student groups. 

In an interview with The News-Letter, Harris shared her optimism for her new position. 

“Being in a new space with a different population of student leaders is exciting, and I want to create transformative experiences for them,” she said. “I want them to feel like they are making a meaningful time of their time here at Hopkins.”

In an email to The News-Letter, Kendall Free, president of the Multicultural Leadership Council, stated that she looks forward to working with Harris.

“Harris came to the Multicultural Leadership Institute this weekend and led a workshop for emerging students on intersectionality, and I really enjoyed it,” Free wrote. “I’m hoping that she will continue to—and she’s expressed her desire to—engage with student leaders not only with regards to policy and procedure, but also identity and leadership development.” 

Senior Aspen Williams, who previously worked for SLI as the logistics and communications director of HopkinsLEAD, was employed by Harris’ predecessor. Williams spoke to the qualities she thought would make an effective Associate Director of Student Leadership.

“They should stay on top of their work, be competent in their position and understand the functioning of student leadership and how it pertains to developing students,” Williams said.

Previously, Harris served as the student program coordinator and assistant director of Florida State’s SGA. At Hopkins, she aims to streamline SLI processes and increase student engagement. 

“A huge priority is the way student leaders engage with our office,” Harris said.

Harris plans to centralize all information about leadership training and group finances on Hopkins Groups. She hopes that this will make communication between student organizations and SLI more effective in the future. 

This is building upon a movement which began this fall to allow student organizations to better track their finances. These changes included a financial module which will allow student groups to monitor their transactions as they occur and view their groups’ financial histories. 

Harris plans on continuing the momentum from this fall. 

“We will continue to create trainings and share information more broadly with student leaders through Hopkins Groups,” she said. “A more robust system will lead to better access to finances and more transparent processes through the event permit process.” 

Sophomore Fabiana Corsi, a member of Hopkins Model United Nations (HopMUN), reflected on the group’s experiences with SLI in the past in an email to The News-Letter.

“We’ve been mischarged for other clubs’ expenses — multiple times — and have often felt that internal communications in SLI doesn’t seem to be entirely effective,” she wrote.

In an email to The News-Letter, junior Sanjana Rao, a member of the Blue Jay Bhangra dance team’s executive board, similarly wished for more financial transparency from SLI. 

“Generally, I’d also like to see better communication about finances and booking event spaces,” she wrote.

Junior Peter Zhu, a member of the acapella group Octopodes, discussed how in the past, the process to book an event space was extremely complicated. Zhu described having to fill out one form through SLI and one form through Hopkins Groups — both of which had the same information on them. He added that certain spaces on campus, such as Shriver Hall, had their own venue-specific form, again with the same information. 

“It’s not very streamlined, so if you miss some information on one form, that organization can veto the whole thing. It’s pretty frustrating,” he said. 

In addition to using Hopkins Groups to streamline financial and event permit processes, Harris spoke to her goal of making these new processes accessible for students. 

“We plan on training students to better utilize and understand the systems that are in place,” she said.

Harris intends to use Hopkins Groups to put those trainings in a centralized location. Harris recognized that student leaders from different Hopkins organizations have typically faced different protocols and have different norms. Harris aims to create a standard experience between all the groups. 

“Students should not have three different processes for the same end goal just because they’re in a different place on campus,” Harris said. “I have experience coming up with a cohesive experience for students, and I can lend to the process of reaching that goal at Hopkins.” 

Reah Vasilakopoulos, president of the Sexual Assault Resource Unit (SARU) recalled difficulties operating under SLI in the past in an email to The News-Letter.

“We’ve experienced some frustrations with SLI, mainly due to lack of transparency, short notice before deadlines, and the general unwillingness to be flexible outside of their requirements,” she wrote.

On the other hand, junior Dave Taylor, a programming chair for the Milton S. Eisenhower (MSE) Symposium, expressed optimism for Harris’s ability to communicate with student groups.

“SLI has always been very good at with our organization in the past,” he said. “We have confidence that [Harris] will continue that tradition.”

This fall, there was a ban on the creation of student groups. The moratorium, which was to allow SLI to audit existing groups and review their funding and practices, was lifted at the beginning of this semester. 

Harris said that support will be given to the student groups from last fall who are still interested in creating organizations. She also pointed out that, while SLI’s role is to provide the infrastructure needed to students to create student groups, the actual process happens between SGA and Hopkins students.

MSE Marketing Chair Cindy Cho, a junior, highlighted the need for the associate director for leadership development to spend time getting to know all of the student groups at Hopkins and interact with the different organizations. 

“I hope that she isn’t spread too thin and has the opportunity to see clubs on a case-by-case basis,” Cho said. 

Harris mentioned the diversity of student groups.

“We work closely with category coordinators that manage niche organizations like culture-, service- or arts-based organizations. Working with those staff as they support student organizations is a priority,” she said. 

She hopes to prepare student leaders to be leaders in the real world. 

“We are a microcosm of what happens outside of a campus setting,” Harris said. “Navigating these systems means that they are prepared to navigate a system outside of a college campus, so when they’re faced with the bureaucracy outside of campus they feel ‘I can do this.’”

Correction: The original version of this article referred to Carolyn Harris as the associate director of student leadership for the Office of Student Leadership and Involvement (SLI). She is SLI’s associate director for leadership development. 

The News-Letter regrets this error.

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