Graduate student Hana Johnson is not your average House Mom. She’s 23, wears a maxi skirt that sweeps the floor and a small gold hoop on her left nostril. But perhaps the most surprising thing about her role is that you can’t find her in a sorority house; instead, she lives in the fraternity house of Phi Delta Theta.
Sororities have house moms, dorms have Resident Assistants and yet, most fraternities have managed to escape any requirement for adult supervision. Phi Delt, however, has had a House Director since 2013.
Johnson’s position in the Phi Delt house, where she lives with 25 boys, is to act as the liaison between the members of the chapter and the Housing Corporation, a group of alumni volunteers that focus on managing the facility. Her main responsibilities include working with the house manager to make sure the house is up and running, whether that’s calling an exterminator or fixing a broken radiator.
Her role as disciplinarian, however, is limited. Johnson refers to herself as a mere adviser in situations involving conduct, noting that it’s not in her job description to stop the boys from having their friends over. The only time she would get involved, she says, is if a situation seems inappropriate.
But while the idea of a House Director might initially sound less-than-ideal to a fraternity, sophomore house manager Derek Chapman says the brothers of Phi Delt have an incredibly positive relationship with Johnson, who he describes as “more a peer of ours, rather than a university employee that we put up with.”
Johnson even bakes for them on occasion and never fails to miss the house’s traditional Wednesday night viewing of Survivor.
“I [try to] go to Hana on a weekly basis for business stuff,” Chapman says. “But I would say a couple times a week I see her door open and a random brother is in there having a conversation with her.”
Current IFC president and Phi Delt member Will Altabef attributes the success of their current and previous House Directors to their willingness to adjust to the culture of the house. The key to making it work is establishing a good relationship with the House Director, according to Altabef.
“She definitely is an authority figure, but in much more of an advisor role, not a babysitter,” he says. “I feel like I have an advisor and a resource and a friend.”
Johnson, a graduate student in SESP studying higher education administration and policy, was hired this summer after a thorough process led by the first and former Phi Delt House Mom Casey Talbot.
Though Johnson admits the cost-free living is a perk, it’s the educational value that drew her to the position, which she considers “good practical experience.” Her Kappa Kappa Gamma affiliation at the Kansas State University has made her especially fond of Greek life, and as an only child, she was excited to experience something completely different.
“They feel like brothers in some way, even though I’m somewhat of an authority figure,” she says. “But it’s just been fun to get to know them, what they’re excited about, what their lives at Northwestern are like, and just hear about their experiences here.”
Johnson, who also serves as a graduate assistant in the Office of Fraternity and Sorority Life, confirmed that as certain other fraternities renew their leases with the University, they, too, will be required to have a House Director.
“It’s not a bad idea. I think if it brings more trust to the Greek system, I think it’s a good idea, certainly. But there’s so many different ways it can go,” says former IFC president Mark Nelson, noting how difficult a change like this could be. “I think there’s a comfort in having someone outside the fraternities in the house at all times as a resource.”
Sigma Phi Epsilon has also employed a house director, and Delta Upsilon and Beta Theta Pi are in the process of hiring house directors for Fall 2016, according to Director of Fraternity and Sorority Life, Cynthia Rose.
“I hope that it’s a positive thing for the community at Northwestern,” says Johnson of the impending change. “I think in a lot of ways it’s helpful to have someone to challenge you and say ‘hey, is your chapter the best it can be?’”