Vice President for Student Life Martino Harmon guest speaks at the LSA SG meeting Wednesday night. Ellie Vice/Daily. Buy this photo.

The Michigan Daily sat down with Martino Harmon, vice president of student life, to discuss supporting MHousing and MDining, RHA experiences and the impact of student activism. This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity. 

The second installment of this interview series can be found here

Residence Halls Association (RHA)

TMD: In light of the recent Daily investigation into University Housing and the experience of RHA student workers, does Student Life plan to make any changes to the structure of University Housing? 

MH: I don’t know that I have any particular structural changes that I can share at this time. But at the same time, I was personally very concerned at the reports that I heard and we’ve been in a number of discussions about what we need to do moving forward to improve the culture, improve the support, training, communication — making sure that staff understand their roles and what they can do — and how to best guide and support students. We want to make sure that students feel safe, that they feel valued, that they know that the support is there — that’s critically important. The recent situation just amplifies the importance of that even more.

TMD: How does Student Life plan to work with ResStaff to rebuild trust and protect Resident Advisors in the coming semesters?

MH: I know that Michigan Housing staff have been taking a careful examination of their training to see how they continue to work with campus partners. I think one of the things that we need to do is make sure when we’re talking with staff about how they support students, that we also make sure they know how Student Life supports staff. Our goal is to make sure that the staff are very aware of the cultural conditions, and we are doing all we can to enhance and improve the culture so everyone feels safe and valued.

TMD: Why are ResStaff encouraged to report allegations of sexual misconduct to Hall Directors instead of to the Equity, Civil Rights & Title IX Office directly like other mandatory reporting policies on campus?

MH: Let me clarify, that any ResStaff member can report anywhere. We don’t prevent a student from reporting to ECRT for any type of incident. It’s my understanding that the role of Housing staff is to support students. We want them to know that they should definitely report to Housing staff and not to think that they can’t, but we don’t prevent them from working with ECRT directly as well. It’s my understanding that both options are available.

TMD: Does Student Life have any plans to increase support for the mental health of Student Life workers, particularly Resident Advisors?

MH: We want to make sure ResStaff knows that we’re also supporting them, not just the residents they serve. We also have to make sure that training for our campus partners — whether it’s a SAPAC (Sexual Assault Prevention and Awareness Center) or CAPS (Counseling and Psychological Services) — is reflective of the needs of ResStaff and our students. 

We are linking this to broader efforts to expand and enhance how we address mental health on campus for all students. We’ve focused this year on a more holistic, institutional approach to addressing mental health. Whether it’s Wolverine Wellness, UHS (University Health Services), peer support, resource navigators or helping faculty to understand the signs of mental health distress and knowing how to refer students, we want to be effective in reaching students — particularly those we don’t believe are connected through support programs and those underrepresented or marginalized. We’re really looking at a number of different ways and want to make sure the ResStaff members are part of that.

Student organization engagement

TMD: From your perspective, how did the 2022 Maize Days go — in terms of fundraising and student engagement overall — now that students are back in-person?

MH: I don’t have the exact numbers, but as I understand it, the number of organizations that were involved increased. We would anticipate that as the campus opens up, more students are more engaged and more involved. That’s a good sign. We also expect that generosity follows that trend as well. We’re still waiting on the final data, but it’s exciting to see us moving back to where we were with those initiatives. And that success helps our programs that support students. Whether it’s the Maize & Blue Cupboard or other programs, those donations help to fill student needs.

TMD: With the Fraterinity and Sorority Life rush cycle having to pivot to a mostly online format — with the exception of bid day — and different fraternities rushing in a variety of formats, how did this year’s rush go from your perspective?

MH: Early reports indicate that it went well. I think Fraternity and Sorority Life utilized the hybrid format as best as they could to try to keep the community safe. From what I’ve learned, the IFC (Interfraternity Council) had a pretty good increase of prospective new members, the Panhellenic Association held steady — it increased from 2020 and held fairly steady with 2021. 

The MGC (Multicultural Greek Council) and NPHC (National Pan-Hellenic Council) are really in a rebuilding, growth and planning phase. They tend to be smaller organizations so they’re really trying to understand how they can grow coming out of the pandemic. Overall, we’re pretty pleased with how the FSL rush went in terms of growth.

MHousing and MDining

The Michigan Daily: What led the University to decide to demolish the Northwood III apartments and build new living spaces for students?

Martino Harmon: The housing experience is a big part of the overall student experience. It’s really important that we create the best environment possible and certainly Northwood’s been around for a while. Planning (started) before the pandemic, and it was really time to — with Regent approval — introduce a 1,200-bed facility. I don’t know that it will be called the “Northwood Apartments,” but it’s a new facility that will provide more opportunities for engagement. So that was really the main reason for this, and I’m just thrilled that we’re able to move forward with that project.

TMD: Will the new residence buildings be apartment-style living or similar to the larger residence halls on campus such as South or West Quad Residence Halls?

MH: It’ll definitely be different than the current Northwood Apartments. It’ll be a large residence hall, but it will be a suite-style arrangement. So it won’t be the standard double (dorm) rooms throughout, but it will be a lot of suites and a lot of lounges and study spaces.

TMD: What student demographics — such as undergraduate or graduate students — will the new residence hall primarily serve?

MH: We haven’t exactly spelled that out yet. Our typical philosophy — other than maybe (Munger Graduate Residences)— is that our facilities will be open to students that apply (for housing). Our priority is to house all new (first-year) students, and then whatever space we have left can go to sophomores, juniors, transfer students, maybe graduate students. Right now, we haven’t specified that this new facility is just for one particular group of candidates.

TMD: With the return to an in-person MDining experience this year for students, how has Student Life worked to ensure all residence and dining halls are adequately staffed, particularly after the University experienced campus-wide staffing shortages?

MH: The dining experience, much like housing, is an engagement experience. It’s not just about eating. It’s about the opportunity for students to engage, to learn, to have a full experience. But we have been challenged by the labor shortages — just like restaurants in Ann Arbor and places all over the nation. Our goal has been to keep everything open, and we’ve accomplished that goal — we don’t want to close any dining facilities. 

We’ve also been able to make adjustments to make sure we have enough service: where we knew we couldn’t hire enough students, we made opportunities available for (University) staff who were not working in dining and wanted some additional work. We’re also focused on addressing labor issues. We were able to make a slight increase in the average wages by about $1 across the board, but we know that we need to do more to be competitive. The labor shortage is a real challenge, and that’s why it’s important for us to keep looking at ways to address that challenge.

TMD:  Student activists and campus leaders have been discussing the possibility of a $15 minimum wage for student workers this semester. Does Student Life have any plans to explore a $15 minimum wage for student workers?

MH: I can only really speak for Student Life workers in areas like dining or in mail facilities and residence halls. We have been looking at how we can make our wages more competitive. We’re still doing an analysis of that and I’m optimistic that we’ll continue moving forward. I know the regents are also looking at competitive wages across campus.

TMD: As the Vice President of Student Life, you’re part of the U-M administration, but you also oversee the different student organizations and different voices on campus. So in regards to different forms of student activism, what do you feel like the administration is most receptive to?

MH: Student activism is an important part of the culture of change at the University of Michigan — it has been for years and it always will be. The administration respects that and we actually embrace that. I think it’s important for students who are involved in activism to be able to get information to understand the issue, to understand what you want to change, understand what’s currently here and then move forward with what you want. That doesn’t mean that everyone will always agree, but that means that we need to have a dialogue, to create change together. Sometimes you can change the institution and make progress — even though it may not be to the extent that students want — over a period of time. We want students to understand that they do make a difference with everything that they do.

Daily News Editor Roni Kane can be reached at Daily Staff Reporters Carly Brechner and Sejal Patil can be reached at and