*Dean of Students Jim Hoppe will leave Macalester at the end of the semester to take on his new position as Vice President and Dean of Student Life at Emerson College in Boston. Hoppe has worked for 12 years at Macalester, serving as Dean of Students for the past nine.
This week The Mac Weekly sat down with Hoppe to talk about his job, what he’ll miss about Macalester and what he’s looking forward to at Emerson.*
TMW: A lot of students at Macalester know you, but they might not really know what you do as Dean of Students. Could you talk about that a little bit?
JH: I supervise a group of staff. I am responsible for overseeing day-to-day student life, and so along with that, I spend time with individual students, I’m on a bazillion and one committees, and I advise student government. I’m also responsible for overseeing the college conduct process, even though other staff have more responsibility for carrying that out. And I’m the Deputy Title IX Coordinator.
A good portion of my day is spent being with students. I’d say on an average day, I see four to five individual students. Sometimes it’s an issue that I’m helping them with directly, and sometimes it’s because they weren’t sure where else to go, and then they come here and we help them get connected to some other place on campus.
How did you get interested in working in higher education?
I got to know my Dean of Students really well when I was in college [at the University of New Mexico], because I got in trouble a lot my freshman year. And because of that, I went on to be an Orientation Leader and an RA, and I was in student government and I was in a fraternity. So I got to know all the Student Affairs staff, but in particular I got to know the Dean really well, because I had to talk to her a lot.
My senior year, we went out to lunch and she asked me if I’d ever considered Student Affairs as a career. And I was embarrassed, because I knew all these great people that I had great relationships with, and I’d never really thought that they did this intentionally.
So, I started to think about it, and the more I started to think about it, I thought it would be an interesting thing to pursue. I applied to graduate school and got in, and thought, ‘Oh, I’ll do this for awhile and see how it fits,’ and thirty years later, here I am. Or not quite thirty.
[Editor’s note: Hoppe has worked in higher education for 25 years.]
What’s changed at Macalester since you started here?
Oh wow. The community has become tighter and more connected. We didn’t have as many all-campus events — there wasn’t as much interest in kind of community spirit. When I first arrived you would never see people walking around campus wearing Macalester stuff. And I think there’s a much stronger sense of common connection now amongst the Macalester community.
I also think there are more students for whom Macalester is their first choice. I think the college has gained a lot of appreciation for just what a good place this is to be, and so, there are more students here for whom Mac was their first choice.
We’re more diverse. There’s — I think it was about 18 percent U.S. students of color the first year I was here and now it’s closer to 25.
Are there things that you’ve gotten to do while you’ve been Dean that you’ve been proud of? Things that you think have changed the college in some way?
If I look back, I’m really proud about all the work we’ve done around LGBT issues. I mean, Mac has always been a very open place, a place where I think members of those communities felt at home.
I think we’ve been able to institutionalize things more. Don’t get me wrong, there’s a long way to go. I know how much at Macalester, we don’t just let the status quo go without challenging it, but I think we’ve come a long way.
I think the Residential Life program has really changed and grown. The first couple years I was here, we’d lose a third of the RA staff each year, due to people being fired or people quitting, and now we’re at the point where it’s a competitive job. Lots of people return to be RAs. The satisfaction rates of residents is really high — again, doesn’t mean that it’s perfect, doesn’t mean that there aren’t things to be fixed, but that’s been a really important evolution.
I think MCSG has come a long way, in terms of their feeling organized and their ability to impact decision-making on campus.
And I think — okay, this is something about me. I hate sounding like I’m bragging. But I think we’ve really worked hard on how we respond to students in crisis or students in need.
And we’ve put a lot more safety nets in place, we’ve really — if you look at where our mental health response was 12 years ago to where it is now, again, it doesn’t mean it’s perfect, there’s still a long ways to go. But we’ve really moved the needle in terms of how we respond to students in crisis, how we connect with members of the faculty, how we all work as a team to make sure that the student experience is strong.
What are you doing in the last couple weeks that you’re here?
It’s flown by. You know, when this was announced in January, I thought, ‘Oh, I’ve got all the time in the world, I’ve got a whole semester’ — and suddenly now there’s just a couple weeks left.
I’ve been trying to just get my affairs in order, make sure that the transition is smooth and that whoever comes to take this job next has a lot of information and a lot of stuff nicely handed off to them. I won’t leave my desk as piled as it is right now.
I’ve also been trying to — just, selfishly, making sure that the things I enjoyed the most at Macalester, I get a chance to do them well one last time. Founder’s Day, and different events and different experiences that you just kind of take for granted, because you think if you missed it this year, you can do it next year. I’ve just been trying to be really thoughtful about enjoying those and being part of those as they come around in the spring.
Some of it’s just small things. Like, I love being out on the quad when it’s snowy, when it’s winter and right as the sun goes down, it’s just really peaceful. So I did that a lot this winter: I’d just go sit on a bench and watch the sun go down.
What are you going to miss about Macalester?
The people, obviously. We have a great staff, and I will really miss my colleagues. I feel really blessed to have worked with some really outstanding people.
There’s a certain quirkiness too–there’s no such thing as a typical Macalester student. There’s this generally held interest in being passionate about something and pursuing your education for the broader good. I just have always appreciated that. I see a lot of that in the students at Emerson, so that is part of what attracted me. I’ll miss that here.
That said, what are you looking forward to at Emerson?
I’ve learned a lot here, and I’ve got a lot of ideas about how I think a division can be led, and how we can integrate all the different services together to really offer an opportunity and an excellent student experience.
So, I’m excited to have the chance to lead that. It’s a little frightening, but I’m very excited to have that chance to lead a team and test out some of these ideas I’ve developed.
Working here has set a standard for me. I need to believe in the mission, I need to care about the students, and working here it’s easy to do both those things. So that was a pretty high threshold when I was thinking about leaving.
The only reason I could go to Emerson was because I could see both of those things happening there too — I believe in the place and the students I got to meet. I could see myself really easily caring about them and working for them. But Macalester helped me set that standard. My job has been so much more fulfilling because I had both those things. That makes it harder to leave, too.
Do you have any parting words for Macalester?
Macalester can be very hard on itself, you know, and it’s funny that I say that, because sometimes I hear people talk about Macalester like it’s the Wizard of Oz. Like there’s really somebody who’s behind the curtain, who is Macalester pulling strings — and Macalester is all of us, you know?
But I think the community can be really hard on itself. And that can be a good thing, because we don’t just accept the status quo, and we question things and we’re always striving to be better.
I would encourage everyone here to not forget that this is a really special place. And — okay, I’m going to cry — just be glad that you’re here.
This is a good opportunity — one that could always be better, and the fact that we realize that here, that it’s a good opportunity that needs to be improved upon — you don’t find that everywhere. And so don’t take that for granted.