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2020-21 academic year brings automated house linking, new LLCs to Duke Housing

Looking for a new place to call your second home next year? 

Last week, the Office of Housing and Residence Life announced several updates about housing options for the 2020-21 academic year.

The email sent out to students Friday Jan. 17 said that first-year students will automatically be placed in housing blocks based on their East Campus residence hall, a system referred to as house linking. The email also stated that two new living-learning communities (LLCs), SPIRE and Wright House, will be available as housing options in the coming years. Additionally, there will be a new independent house in Edens 3B, according to the housing information session hosted on January 23.

Fraternities Delta Tau Delta and Sigma Alpha Epsilon will not have housing sections next year, nor will the Arts Theme House.

“This will be the first time that the entire [housing] process is online in a number of years,” said Joe Gonzalez, assistant vice president of student affairs and dean for residential life, “which certainly makes it more user-friendly for students.” 

First-year house linking is not a new process; the initiative launched a pilot program in the 2018-2019 school year under the leadership of Gonzalez and Lizzie Speed, Trinity ‘18, former Duke Student Government vice president of campus life. It creates housing blocks of students who live in the same first-year dorm, and all students who choose to link will be placed in the same West Campus dorm.

“The House Link program was designed to aid continuity of the special communities that are so unique to East Campus houses,” Speed told the Chronicle in 2018.

In its first year, the option to link was only offered to residents of Blackwell, Brown and Giles, and it was expanded to all East Campus dorms for the current academic year. Previously, students had to opt in to the house link program, but they will now be opted in automatically, which Gonzalez hopes will make it easier for students to remain connected to their first-year communities. 

However, students who participate in the house link program cannot select roommates from another first-year dorm. Additionally, more than six people need to opt-in for a house to be linked, and blocks with six people or less will be rolled over into the independent housing process. 

For those who may want to branch out from their first-year communities, LLCs could be a viable option. The housing website describes LLCs as “intentionally designed” communities that combine residential, academic and social components of the college experience. Gonzalez said that these communities, like Visions of Freedom—Duke’s first LLC—are integrated within independent housing on West Campus, similar to how FOCUS participants reside with students who are not participating in the program on East Campus. 

Likewise, the two new LLCs, SPIRE and Wright House, will reside within larger communities on West Campus.

The SPIRE LLC, which will be located in Hollows A, is the living community for the STEM mentoring program of the same name. SPIRE—short for “STEM Pathways for Inclusion, Readiness and Excellence”—supports students that are interested in pursuing studies in STEM fields, especially women and underrepresented minorities. Prospective SPIRE Fellows apply to the program in the fall semester and remain in the program for the length of their enrollment at Duke. 

The SPIRE LLC in Hollows A will be populated by the incoming class of SPIRE Fellows, who were accepted to the fellowship last October. 

“[SPIRE] seeks to create a sense of academic belonging among students who have historically been marginalized in scientific communities,” wrote Jennette Wood Crowley, academic dean of Trinity College of Arts and Sciences and director of the SPIRE Fellows Program, in an email.

The LLC will be home to upperclassmen who are “dedicated to making Duke a more inclusive and friendly place” for STEM students through study groups, wellness activities and other forms of enrichment, Wood Crowley said. Goals of the LLC include cultivating a sense of belonging and wellness among fellows, as well as creating a positive learning experience that will translate into graduate study and careers. The LLC is also accompanied by a house course that allows fellows to discuss STEM education at Duke, campus culture and issues of diversity and inclusion in the sciences. 

Wright House, which will be located in Craven Houses Y and Z, is the new LLC for African American students. Formed as a result of advocacy by the Black Student Alliance (BSA), Gonzalez described the house as an offshoot of the selective Black Cultural Living Group that existed previously.

“We’re excited to have this African diaspora living-learning community as an option for students,” he said.

Throughout the Fall 2019 semester, BSA hosted meetings and conducted surveys to gather student opinions on the development of the living group, including whether or not respondents would want to live there and where it should be located. According to a Google Form publicized on BSA’s Instagram, the options for the location of the LLC were Craven or Edens 3A, and it wound up in Craven.

The Chronicle reached out to junior De’Ja Wood, vice president of BSA, to learn more about the process of developing the LLC, but Wood did not respond in time for publication.

New LLCs are typically formed under the guidance of a faculty or staff sponsor and proposals are submitted to a committee consisting of faculty, students and staff in November. The committee reports directly to Gary Bennett, vice provost for undergraduate education, and Mary Pat McMahon, vice provost/vice president for student affairs, who then decide whether to approve the LLC. 

Some students see living in communities like these as an opportunity to connect with others that have similar interests.

One reason junior Renata Starostka joined the Eruditio et Religio LLC was the desire to “be part of something unifying.” 

“I liked the idea of LLCs because I think that independent houses sometimes don’t have as much community as [selective living groups],” Starostka wrote in an email to The Chronicle. “I think this idea of interfaith community-building work is a huge part of E&R that makes it different from other LLCs because we’re choosing to be part of a group that is very diverse and choosing to help redesign our community to be welcoming in those ways.”

Starostka also highlighted the benefits of having access to Mosaic—the interfaith worship space in Keohane—receiving mentorship from faculty and campus leaders and living near campus cats Peaches and Mama Bean. She is teaching the E&R house course next year.

“Ultimately, it’s a great community, and I’m so glad we have the resources and mentors to keep learning throughout the process,” Starostka wrote.

The 2020-2021 housing application opens Wednesday, Feb. 5 and closes Friday, Feb. 7 at 11:59 p.m.

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