It's a return to tradition,
but Gordon is no house mom

First comes the chuckle. No matter how many times Deborah Gordon tells people about her job, there's always the chuckle.

"And what do you do for a living?"
That's when Gordon knows it's coming.
"I'm a house director for Emory University."
"House Director?"
"I live in a fraternity house with a group of college guys."
"Heh, heh."
Right on cue.

"People are always amused by what I do," said Gordon, house director for the Pi Kappa Alpha fraternity and assistant women's basketball coach. "It takes some explaining before they begin to understand and appreciate the position."

Gordon's formal responsibilities include supervising the kitchen staff and coordinating the physical upkeep of the house with facilities management. Informally- and most rewarding for her-she serves as an adult voice for the 35 students who reside in the house and the other 90 who belong to the fraternity.

"They've become part of an extended family for me," Gordon said. Fraternity members are known as "brothers," which is nice for Gordon, who has one sister and no brothers. "I've got a whole house full of younger brothers that I never had."

Gordon is quick to point out that she considers herself an older sister, not a mother.

"I'm not there to stick my nose in everyone's business," she said. "I assured the brothers that I would be there for them, but I would not be a pest."

When the position was created last year, it was called "house parent," but Gordon insists that the brothers made the title switch. Even the wording on the reserved parking space sign was changed to reflect the preferred designation.

Oh yes, the parking space. Pi Kappa Alpha (aka Pike) has one reserved parking space directly in front the house for it's director. "Best parking space on campus," said fraternity member Andrew Fried.

That's one of the position's perks. The others are a salary and free room and board. Gordon lives in what she calls a nice apartment with two rooms, including a full kitchen and bathroom and a private entry.

"This position gives me the financial comfort to do what I love most of all, which is coaching," explained Gordon, now in her second year with the basketball Eagles after three years at Massachuetts' Brandeis University, a fellow member of the University Athletic Association. In fact, her coaching experience helped Gordon land the position with Pi Kappa Alpha.

"Deb's involvement with college athletes was a big plus for her because she was familiar with college-age students," said Bill Teague, former house president who was a member of the search committee last summer. "We wanted someone who could bridge the generation gap and be accessible to the guys. She has exceeded everyone's expectations."

Being house director is like being a coach, said Gordon. "You have to be a teacher, demand discipline, develop relationships with your players and handle administrative duties."

"From day one, Deb has been a friend," said Fried. "She's fun to be around."

Gordon enjoys shooting baskets with the brothers on a makeshift court in their parking lot. She joins them for meals and television viewing and welcomes them into her room for idle chit chat. Some have sought her out as a trusting, adult confidante.

"They talk about the stress of school, GRE exams, postgraduation plans and, more than anything else, girls," she said.

While the Pikes have asked Gordon to coach their intramural basketball team, she may not be able to because of coaching commitments. Her other job also impacts the fraternity because members are not allowed to have organized social functions when their director is away, which happens quite regularly during the season.

Though the brothers may be inconvenienced by Gordon's basketball job, they still show their support for her and the women's team. "I'll look up into the stands during a home game and see 10 to 15 of the brothers there," Gordon said. "It's nice to know that they're supporting me and the team. In fact, they've invited the team over for dinner in the near future."

As part of her responsibilities, Gordon has a standing invitation to all social functions in the house. "I make an appearance to let them know I'm there and to make sure everything is running smoothly."

Gordon admits she came into her position with some apprehension. "I'd never worked [this] closely with men before," she said. "I thought this would be the stereotypical 'Animal House.' But the Pikes do not fit the stereotype. Yes, they party and have fun like everyone else. But I have seen young men create a sense of brotherhood and friendships that will probably last their whole lives." She happily reports that there were no incidents of vandalism in the house last semester.

Gordon's initial doubts about the position have since been dispelled, she said. Once, when she was in bed for a couple days with the flu, the brothers plastered get-well notes on her door. And last spring when they returned from the holiday break, "many of them came up to me and gave me a hug," recounted Gordon. "That's when I realized my presence was something that was important to them. That made me feel good."

-John Arenberg

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