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Whittier College is currently in the process of developing themed-housing options in hopes of creating vibrant living-learning communities (LLC) for the 2018-19 academic year. Colleges and universities across the country use these programs as a mode of teaching, learning, and, most importantly, community building, but it comes as no easy task.
College Factual is an independent analysis organization that uses statistics to give prospective students a transparent image of colleges and universities. According to College Factual,Whittier College had a first-year retention rate of 87 percent in 2015; five percent above the national average. While the majority of students do stay at the College after their first year, administration is looking to close the gap.
The program aims to raise first-year retention at Whittier College by providing opportunities for students to have multiple connections – a “multi-faceted base,” according to Associate Dean of Students Josh Hartman. “The idea of having themed housing or special interest housing is that it creates a bond that actually goes outside of the residence hall,” said Hartman. Given that Whittier College values community so highly, themed housing will further connect students to their overall surroundings and offer students even more incentive to stick around.
While the administration is dedicated to living-learning communities, it’s a tall order. According to Dean ofStudents Joel Pérez Whittier College to spend anywhere from $10,000-15,000 on the project. “[The amount] depends on the types of programming, and if there’s faculty interaction,” said Pérez. “We need incentives for faculty to get involved.” Development will take time, space, and money. Ultimately, the sheer number of staff will determine how soon the program is able to start.“The school is short-staffed and we are struggling to jump start the program. We are purely in the planning stage.” said Hartman.
The program will allow first-year students to pick a theme and a class that corresponds with that theme. It will also require students to participate in a community service that parallels the house’s theme. For example, with a multicultural-house theme, students might become involved with the Cultural Center’s extracurricular activities. This would help expand residential life beyond dorm rooms and to connect the community as a whole.
One of the proposed living-learning communities is election-themed. “We’re definitely not talking about all dividing by political party or ideology,” Hartman explained. “But, there is a great opportunity for students to create a themed housing centered on politics and values that are expressed in America and in politics. Maybe one floor focuses on civic engagement, and another focuses on local politics, or statistical analysis.” This provides a brief glimpse at how the program would operate within the college, and how broad the scope of classes could be to suit individual interests.
The program will also require an application process for students who wish to choose a themed house upon enrollment. Currently, the administration is considering creating a web portal similar to the online room draw students use to select roommates for upcoming school years. However, this time they will be choosing a themed-house option, or possibly creating their own theme if enough students have similar interests and the proposed theme is deemed appropriate.
Professor and Associate Dean ofFaculty Development Laura McEnaney explained possible alterations in order to incorporate more of the College. “One of the things we’re looking into is how can we incorporate commuters into living learning communities, maybe through events or workshops they can attend,” said McEnaney. Still, she explains, the program is very time-intensive. “Somebody needs to set up the program, to be able to set up the application process to start it, [and] to start up the staff support for the students. When we had living-learning communities before, we definitely had a larger staff,” said McEnaney.
According to area coordinator Joe Melendez, the role of a residential advisor (R.A.) would not change in living-learning communities. “When you think about what an R.A. actually does, you apply it to the LLC. Their role becomes more intentional, meaning you focus it around the theme of the house,” said Melendez. “There isn’t much of a difference because the rules are still the same.”
The program is working on determining which living-learning community would work the best, drawing from student input. “We’re a very small campus and we don’t have a lot of resources, so it’s not like we can offer 12 different living learning communities. We need to really figure out what it is the students want,” said Hartman. “We’re going to try to get the students [to] create their own communities in the upper-class dorms and have a twin community in a first- year building, so then there’s building connections from first years and upper-class,” said Hartman. “It’s students who are really generating the idea.”