On January 28, 2019, the women’s cross-country team found themselves at the end of a long chain of emails. Their coach, Fran Rizzo, had added a single word to the bottom: “Interest?” The message originated from Michael Elias, Associate Dean of the college, 6 days earlier. It asked deans and advisors to invite students—specifically those they have a close relationship with—to apply for the position of Customs Co-heads. The original Co-head application had a stated deadline of January 3, but as the email goes on to explain, nobody applied.
This email was sent on behalf of Michelle Leao, Director of Student Engagement, Assistant Dean of the College, and this year’s Customs admin. She will work with the eventual Co-heads to organize the Customs program for the coming year. She did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
The email gives a couple of reasons for the lack of applicants. Acknowledging the changes in Customs as a possible source of disinterest, Elias recognizes a general trend of lower numbers of applications than in previous years.
Fall 2020 will bring some drastic changes to the program, cutting teams to one CP and UCA with one off-hall position, given the title “Customs Community Facilitator,” taking on the PAF, HCO, and AMA roles. In the aforementioned survey to select between several models of paid Customs, students this fall selected the new system by a very slight lead.
Although student opinion can be hard to gauge, Elias seems to be correct in his reasoning. There has been push-back against the new system from the beginning. A survey regarding the new models included a free-response section, yielding responses criticizing the size and structure of all proposals offered by Leao.
Given the complete absence of applications for weeks after interviews for Co-heads were supposed to be scheduled, there are bound to be implications for the timeline of the program as a whole. Applications to be on a Customs team were already pushed back from their proposed release in January, presumably until the Co-head seats are filled.
The original timeline, released in an email from Leao in December, slated completion of hall assignments and hiring for mid-February. For students considering Customs and on-campus housing, this could result in a difficult situation; the spring room draw occurs at the end of March.
As of February 7th, the application for Co-heads had been pulled from Engage, a sign that the role may soon be filled. This certainly is an important step in planning the upcoming Customs program, but the hardest endeavors may still lie ahead. If the program spent months struggling to find 2 Co-heads, recruiting 25 CPs, UCAs, and Customs Community Facilitators may pose an even bigger challenge.
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