Dr. MacLeod Walls visits Greek organizations on Listening Tour

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Dr. MacLeod Walls in her office. Photo by Christina Kirk

Dr. MacLeod Walls, president of William Jewell College, is interested what students have to say. Listening Tours are one of the ways that she is able to interact with students and learn more about what issues concern them.

This year MacLeod Walls is visiting each Greek life organization in their respective houses and chapter rooms. The Hilltop Monitor sat down with her to learn more about why Listening Tours are necessary and what she has learned from the members of the organizations.

MacLeod Walls first visited Jewell’s Greek life organizations to ask questions and listen to concerns during the 2016-2017 academic year, her first year as president.

“My goal was to have time with all major constituent groups of the campus, so that included, of course, Greek life,” Macleod Walls said. “That was the first time that I went to each of the houses, sat down with everybody and just listened, really.”

The experience proved to be very valuable for her, the students and administration.

“I decided to do the Listening Tour again – in particular with faculty and staff – and I wanted to do Greek life again because I wanted to measure what kind of progress we’d made and what some of the new concerns might be,” MacLeod Walls said. “So I have done four houses thus far, the last two are both fraternities that are scheduled and I’m learning a ton.”

In each house, she asks students what they love about Greek life or Jewell, what concerns they have and how she could help.

These questions are broad in order to allow students the freedom to talk about what genuinely excites or concerns them.

Listening to what Greek men and women loved about their organizations and Jewell impressed MacLeod Walls.

“We have very strong Greek life at Jewell. You can feel it when you are in the presence of any house, whether it’s a fraternity or a sorority,” said MacLeod Walls. “There’s a lot of affection and camaraderie in the room and a lot of loyalty, a lot of joy that people experience just being part of that Greek family, and I think also being part of a larger philanthropic effort that helps our community.”

MacLeod Walls was pleased to hear the number of Greek life members – especially those in sororities – who appreciate the flexibility of their organization in how it allows for them to participate in co-curriculars and academics at a high level.

The concerns of members of Greek life have also provided a lot of insight for the president – and many are different from the concerns that she heard on her last Listening Tour.

“Concerns that I heard were by and large about facilities, both with the fraternities and with the sororities,” MacLeod Walls mentioned. “The great stuff about that is that, generally speaking, we can fix that stuff. So carrying that back and making sure that the right people know about that, that’s great, that’s part of why I do this.”

Athletics, and its sometimes difficult relationship with Greek life, was a high priority amongst many of the members of the organizations.

“I’ve heard that in every house that I visited. I heard that two and a half years ago as well,” MacLeod Walls said. “It’s a priority for me and the new AD [athletic director] to try and figure that out, but I didn’t hear as much progress as I hoped I would.”

An area that members wanted MacLeod Walls’ help with was improving their relationships with independents.

“I heard broadly ‘how can you help us to promote Greek life with the greater campus, how can we forge better relationships with independents,’” MacLeod Walls said about questions she was asked by Greek life students. “That also came up as a concern because I think there’s perceptions that have come up through the Hilltop in particular.”

All three of the sororities voiced concerns about how to better communicate the purpose of their organizations in order to break down negative stereotypes.

Some of the concerns of students branched from misunderstandings of school policies or the avenues that can be used to fix issues. A few of these misunderstandings were practical – such as students not knowing that workout equipment in Shumaker could be fixed via a work order.

Others made MacLeod Walls laugh a little.

“The slightly hilarious was a question that – and I’m not the only one that gets this question – is alcohol restricted in Shumaker because Diane Shumaker doesn’t like alcohol?”

“No, that is decidedly not the case,” MacLeod Walls said. “After I heard some of those concerns I sat down with Ernie [Stufflebean, director of residence life], Shelly [King, dean of students], Dr. Dema [provost], and Kristin [Woolridge, director of student activities and Greek life advisor] and I think what we’re likely gonna do is codify women’s ability to use the common spaces for alcohol use.”

This would mean that alcohol would be allowed in the common spaces of Shumaker – such as the multipurpose room or the couches – for those with alcohol approved IDs.

“That’s our policy for other residential areas so we feel that that’s an appropriate thing to do,” MacLeod Walls said. “I think Kristin was gonna come back to each of the houses to say ‘how do you feel about this?’ because there’s the national organization that governs over what happens in the wings so we have to be thoughtful about that.”

Once MacLeod Walls has heard the concerns of all the Greek organizations, she plans to compile them into an email that she will send to the organizations to ensure that no concern was missed.

Listening Tours take a lot of time on the part of Dr. Macleod Walls – but are definitely worth the effort.

“The time flies by and it’s worth every second,” she said.

Whether it’s the monthly Coffee with the President or eating breakfast with Student Senate, MacLeod Walls finds time spent communicating directly with students to be extremely valuable.

“I wish I could visit with students all the time because every time I visit with students I learn about what their actual experience is,” said MacLeod Walls. “It just helps me to know what’s effective, what we need to work on and what I could do personally to make it better – so I love that.”

MacLeod Walls plans to continue Listening Tours with student organizations in the future.

“I will definitely keep the Listening Tour every other year because I listen to all groups, not just to Greek life, but I do have to say that I especially enjoy listening to the students – whether it’s Greek life or independents – and that might be something that I wind up cycling through every year because it’s very valuable and otherwise I’m not keeping my finger on the pulse,” MacLeod Walls said.

It’s not only that Listening Tours are enjoyable for the president they are also a crucial part of William Jewell’s mission.

“Frankly we have to live up to our brand mission and to our overall philosophy that we are critical thinkers in community, pursuing meaningful lives, and if we are not a community in which we are listening – actively listening – then we are failing as critical thinkers,” MacLeod Walls said. “When you forge that relationship, even when it’s brief, it matters because people need to feel heard and they need to feel like things that excite them or frustrate them are things that they can share and that we are going to act upon that one way or the other. For me it’s the most vital thing that I do.”

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