January 21, 2003

Greek to her

By Eric Rangus erangus@emory.edu

All the time, people ask me, ‘When are you graduating?’” Andrea Gaspardino says to a visitor who knows better. She crossed into her 30s not too long ago, but looks like a candidate to be carded at any Buckhead bar. Since Gaspardino works in the Division of Campus Life and is around students much of the day, it is not uncommon for outsiders to make a certain assumption.

“I graduated a long time ago!” she says with equal parts humor and incredulity. “They don’t understand that there are people who actually go to school and get their master’s in this.

“People don’t always understand student affairs.”

In July, Gaspardino came to Emory to take over as director of Sorority and Fraternity Life. She is responsible for overseeing Emory’s Greek community, which encompasses 14 fraternities, 11 sororities and about 1,500 students. Around 30 percent of Emory’s undergraduate population is Greek, which is rather high for a school of its size. That means Gaspardino’s office, which includes three graduate assistants, three student assistants and a staff assistant, has a great deal of influence on the lives of Emory students.

“I tell people what I do, and they answer, ‘Oh, you get to party all the time,’” says Gaspardino, who spent four years as director of Greek life at Penn State. “Well … no. Their other response is, ‘You’re the one who takes away the fun.’

“Sometimes people don’t understand that we’re trying to develop leaders and also develop the student outside the classroom,” she says. “That’s where they spend 70 percent of their time. You want to have an impact on those students.”

“Andrea has an ability to establish a rapport with a variety of people,” says Bridget Guernsey Riordan, assistant vice president of Campus Life. “She also has the ability to ask the right questions. But she doesn’t give solutions [to students]; instead she draws from them the right solutions.” And that, of course, is a key to student development.

Gaspardino has the outgoing and upbeat personality that is crucial when dealing with students. She also wields the hammer that is necessary when students might take advantage of freedoms they are given, or if they might not be working as hard as necessary.

“When I meet with or work with a group of students, I’m very clear about expectations—they’re very high,” Gaspardino says. “The bottom line is they joined an organization, and that organization espouses very specific values. And if we’re going to make this relationship work, then they are going to have to uphold their part, which is living up to their fraternal values. I will support students until I am blue in the face, but if they’re not doing what they say they are going to do, I’m going to hold them accountable. I think that’s a pretty simple formula.”

A native of Vermont, Gaspardino earned a bachelor’s in history at Western New England College in Springfield, Mass., a school that didn’t have a Greek community. Her first exposure to Greek life was while working toward her master’s in college student personnel at Ohio’s Bowling Green State University. Her assistantship was in Greek life, and she lived in the Pi Beta Phi house, serving as house director.

“I had the most incredible experience,” Gaspardino says. “I saw the positive things Greek organizations can do for the community and for students on campus. I became a huge supporter of the fraternity and sorority community at Bowling Green.”

Just before she graduated, Gaspardino was initiated into the sorority. Becoming Greek later in life, she says, gave her a better perspective on the community. “I’ve seen the good side and the bad side,” she says. “We have our issues, but we certainly have our successes, too.”

Gaspardino’s first job out of graduate school was in residence life at Quinnipiac College (now University), a small liberal arts school in Connecticut. In 1996, she was hired to lead the Greek life office at Penn State. There she was in charge of the largest Greek organization in the country in terms of chapters (88).

In October 2000, Gaspardino moved to New York to work in the nonprofit sector with the Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation (although she clearly keeps some ties to Penn State—Gaspardino’s Emory office is a sea of blue and white, and visages of Joe Paterno are tucked into practically every corner). Her job took her to college campuses throughout the country, where she did promotional and fundraising work. Bouncing from school to school not only made Gaspardino long for a return to student development, but also a career in which she could see the long-term effects of her efforts.

“I realized that I wanted to work on a college campus again full time, and I’d heard really positive things about Emory,” says Gaspardino, who beat out more than 60 other applicants for her position. “I was really interested in getting back to a small private school, where I could have close contact with students in order to have an impact. I don’t think I saw that as much at Penn State. By the time I met all the chapter presidents, the new ones were in office.”

In fact, one of the first things Gaspardino did after she was hired was meet each fraternity and sorority president at Emory. In her first semester on campus, Gaspardino managed to visit a chapter meeting or have a meal at the majority of fraternity houses and sorority lodges, and she knows each president by face and name.

Right now, Gaspardino is in the midst of her first sorority recruitment at Emory. It began Jan. 18 and will wrap up Jan 25—the same day fraternity recruitment begins. The fraternities will complete recruitment Feb. 6, and then Gaspardino can stop working 12-to-15-hour days.

This year’s sorority recruitment is hardly routine. For the first time, women will be recruiting new members while based in fraternity houses. The reason is because Emory sorority lodges, which are located near the law school, are having termite problems. Women will continue to live in them, but Campus Life determined that recruitment would best be held someplace else.

So, while women bounce from one fraternity house to another, the male members who live there will have a choice: Vacate by 8:30 a.m. and stay out until 6 p.m., or stay in their rooms all day. While this is going on, Gaspardino marches up and down the row, supervising the process, making sure it runs smoothly.

The new recruitment format is just one of the challenges Gaspardino has met in her first few months on the job. She brought in a consulting team from the National Panhellenic Conference to talk to sororities about their organization; she streamlined the Interfraternity and Intersorority Councils, cutting the number of officers in half to make them much more manageable and effective; and she has tweaked the Greek social policy.

Every school (and Emory is no exception) has regular conflicts between non-Greek students (the majority) and Greek (a higher profile minority). Part of the long-term job description of any staff leader in Greek life is to address, and ideally diffuse, the issues that arise.

“Sometimes, unfortunately, we as Greeks live up to our stereotypes,” she says. “So it’s good to have people who are constantly challenging us and to have us really strive for that excellence we profess.” Gaspardino is quick to point out, for example, that Emory’s Greek population has a higher GPA than non-Greeks.

“What I would say to [anti-Greeks] is try to keep an open mind,” she continues. “I’m more than happy to talk to anyone and share with them what Greeks are doing.”

Like the time when she invited an editorial writer from The Emory Wheel to her office and went over a published article paragraph by paragraph, addressing its inaccuracies and misconceptions about Greek life.

Clearly, Gaspardino’s accountability applies to everyone.






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