When I was in college in the early 1980s I had a second mother, so did my 40 sorority sisters at the Tri Sigma house at Northern Illinois University. Her name was Doris Streepy, a widow who patiently
managed the sorority and tended to the daily dramas that go with supervising a house full of young women.
Mrs. Streepy has since been replaced by Mariana Williams, a no-nonsense, retired mental health counselor with a master’s degree. Preferring the title of house director, Williams, 78, is responsible for the overall maintenance and safety of the Tri Sigma house. “I try to make sure that men don’t sneak in,” she says.
Williams represents the changing face of the women — and sometimes men — who are house directors, presiding over many of the nation’s 8,000 sororities and fraternities. Once the domain of widowed or divorced homemakers, a growing number of older professionals are grabbing these jobs for the stimulation of living in college towns, the cash and the benefits.
House Director Pay and Benefits
House directors typically earn between $35,000 and $45,000 a year and receive free room and board. Most sororities and fraternities also provide them with cell phones. Some even offer a stipend to cover health insurance and an allowance for the use of a car for errands.
“I’m constantly posting notes on how to fill the washer,” says Williams. “If they put too much in, it breaks down.
“This is ideal,” says Williams. “I need to work, and I wanted to get out from under my mortgage and other expenses.”
Charlotte Malus who runs Greek House Resources, a Texas-based placement service, says there are probably hundreds of openings for house directors each year. And, she adds, there’s often a need for last-minute placements before the school year begins. Internet job sites Glassdoor and Indeed each had 15 house director jobs posted less than a month before the start of the upcoming school year.
“I’m contacted up until September. I’m also contacted if something doesn’t work out and they’re looking for a replacement. Sometimes houses need a replacement at mid-term,” says Malus.
Bette Russell, who hired Williams, says: “It’s not the easiest job to fill.” Many sororities hire only women as house directors. Some, though, will consider couples. Fraternities typically consider men and women.
What the Job Entails
House directors are typically responsible for opening the sorority or fraternity house at the beginning of the school year and closing it at the end. In between, they maintain the place by hiring service providers, supervising cleaning staff and paying vendors.
“My job is pretty much what my boss wants me to do on the day he needs me to do it,” says Jimmie Hays, 68, house director at the University of Arkansas’s Sigma Chi Fraternity.
Hays has been on the job for seven years and says the decades she previously spent in the hospitality industry come in handy. “It’s more like a hotel management job where your duties are with the physical operation,” says Hays. “I’m not there to be their mother.”
Professionals with experience in hospitality, public relations and education are among the most sought-after candidates for house directors, says Malus.
Living quarters can be cozy. Although Williams lives in a partially-furnished, two-bedroom apartment with a private bathroom and kitchenette off of the sorority’s main entryway, many house directors make do with much less. Some only have a room or a small suite.
The job can be consuming, too. Williams, for instance, doesn’t get evenings or weekends off. She does, however, have four days of vacation at Thanksgiving, a month around Christmas, a week during spring break and three months in the summer. Some house directors live in the sorority or fraternity house during the summer; others spend that time living with family members.
How to Find a House Director Job
Finding a house director job often involves networking. Malus says many of the directors know each other and make referrals when they hear about job openings. Some find the jobs through placement agencies like Greek House Resources.
Others contact individual chapters or reach out to a few schools, as Williams did. “Most colleges have a Greek Life director. I called [Northern Illinois University] and told them about my background,” she says.
Experienced house directors, like Del Potter, 69, advise diligence when looking for a position and negotiating a contract.
Potter was a house director at a sorority in Oklahoma a decade ago when a position became available at a fraternity in Santa Barbara, Calif. She was offered the job and excited about moving to the West Coast, but says things went south during contract negotiations.
“They were on probation for setting up mud pits and having mud fights in the living room,” explains Potter. “I would only accept the job with an amendment to the contract that they would pay me for a year if the fraternity closed down. They wouldn’t agree to that and found someone else.”
Sometimes, Playing Mom or Dad
While house directors aren’t expected to police students’ behavior or play mom or dad, they often do.
“I’m constantly posting notes on how to fill the washer,” says Williams. “If they put too much in, it breaks down.”
Potter’s maternal instincts were constantly tested when her sorority’s members went to bars or fraternity mixers. “I’d say, ‘If you’re going out, have one beer. Think about how much you’re putting into your body.’”
Hays notes that her “boys” constantly test her patience when they break things on an almost weekly basis. “I get really mad sometimes, but every darn one of them wins my heart,” she adds.
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