House directors open up about making a sorority house a sorority home.
Movies often depict sorority life as a world of gossip sessions and chaotic slumber parties, but one unseen member of the system is crucial to the function of the house. Behind the scenes, house directors keep the show running.
Employed by sororities and fraternities, house directors supervise staff, manage the building and communicate with the University. The house director manages the building while being a supportive, friendly face around the house.
“I told my sons that I was interviewing for a house mom job, and they said, ‘Oh, mom, a house mom. All they do is sit in their room and watch TV and knit,’” Jody Springer, the house director at Delta Delta Delta, says. “And I told them at the time, ‘I can learn to knit!’”
To relax, many house directors devote themselves to activities outside of their jobs.
“I think the girls are more interested in having a relationship with you if you have more to talk about than the paper towels being full or the toilet paper being ordered,” Springer says.
Some house directors applied to the job by chance and were particularly drawn to the free housing and food.
Trish Swanson, the house director at Gamma Phi Beta, traveled around the world teaching English for many years. After tiring of teaching, she answered a Craigslist ad to be facilities director of a house of ballet dancers, starting her on her current career path.
The position used to be titled “house mom,” but Springer says her sorority is working to officially change the name to “house director” given the evolution in duties of the role. House moms in the past taught girls how to be more “ladylike” and how to socialize. Today’s house director is in charge of supervising the building’s facilities while being a supportive guide through stressful moments.
“Around finals and midterms, you can just sense the tension in the air,” Swanson says. “The chef and I put on a holiday dinner for [the girls] and we have their favorite foods and a raffle drawing for prizes.”
The house director can hold spontaneous events for the girls to feel more comfortable and relaxed but also plan events that require more organization. These include alumni reunion events, like homecoming weekend and Founders’ Day celebrations.
A crucial element of the role is interacting with the sorority members they live with. New girls move into the house each year, challenging the house director to establish unique connections with each new batch.
“Every year you have different girls in the house, and so the house has a different personality,” Springer says. “You have to adapt to that new personality.”