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‘One-of-a kind, immersive experience’: Living Learning Communities discuss hopes for a more normal academic year

<p>HDRL data shows that&nbsp;78 percent of students used right of return&nbsp;during the 2016 room selection process.</p>

HDRL data shows that 78 percent of students used right of return during the 2016 room selection process.

With Duke planning for a “close to normal” fall semester, many on-campus groups may have the chance to resume their activities and hold in-person events again, including Duke’s seven living learning communities

LLCs are residential communities, typically sponsored by a specific university department and faculty mentor, in which students are united by a common academic pursuit or social passion. These students usually live in the same dorm with and attend events together geared towards building both their knowledge and character. 

Due to the pandemic, Duke’s selective living groups were not allowed to hold in-person rush or recruit members of the Class of 2024. The University also announced in February that many non-Greek selective living groups would be living in Edens Quad for the 2021-22 academic year. However, no official announcements were made on the fate of living learning communities.

Not every LLC has given extensive thought to their plans for the next year. Some of the LLCs, such as the Baldwin Scholars, selected their members last semester, making them unaffected by any changes that would have been made more recently. 

“It is too early to predict what next year will look like,” Baldwin Scholars Director Colleen Scott wrote in an email.

Other LLCs have maintained a positive attitude, including the Kenan Global Citizenship and Ethics LLC. Suzanne Shanahan, Nannerl O. Keohane director of the Kenan Institute of Ethics, wrote that they are hopeful that they will be able to return to the previous years’ programming structure. 

Kenan Global Citizenship and Ethics normally holds in-person events such as an annual research learning service trip, which was not possible this year due to campus restrictions. However, Shanahan wrote that because this was “an ethically fraught year,” the opportunities for engagement in the LLC were significant.

Shanahan added that their community was not affected by any housing changes and that the students are excited to live in Craven Quad next year.

“After this crazy year, we are looking forward to a return to a new normal, whatever that may look like,” Shanahan wrote.

The Visions of Freedom LLC has been finding ways to adjust to pandemic-life this past year and is similarly hopeful for the coming year. 

Junior Weston Lindner, co-president of the Visions of Freedom LLC, wrote that it is “an exciting time” for LLCs because Duke’s Next Gen Living & Learning 2.0 Committee recognizes the value they can have for “students looking for community based on academic interests.” 

Lindner wrote that the LLC did not live in its normal residential area this past year, but next year it will be located in Crowell Quad, which has common rooms “conducive to forming community.”

“[Interim Dean for Residence Life] Deb LoBiondo and the housing team have been a friend to LLCs during this process in terms of allowing us to live where we feel our community can thrive most,” Lindner wrote.

Lindner wrote that he believes the combination of having more students back on campus next year and the greater possibility of in-person events will strengthen their community. Because the majority of their members will be rising sophomores and juniors who never had the opportunity to experience Visions of Freedom before the pandemic, he wrote that one of the main goals will be to show the newer members what “a thriving LLC looks like in a more normal year.”

Lindner wrote that the LLC experienced a 42% increase in applications as compared to the previous year. Although he is not sure why this is, he wrote that it could be due to either the executive board’s outreach work or “greater awareness of the LLC model as an option,” especially with many Greek and selective living group options for first-years.

Lindner wrote that although they held events leading up to the application deadline, the events were not required or evaluative, as “it’s in the DNA” of the LLC to welcome everyone into the community rather than judge applicants based on “their social acumen during a ‘rush’ process or their academic credentials like GPA.”

“Visions of Freedom is immensely proud of our status as a non-selective organization,” Linder wrote. “As has been the case for every year I have been at Duke, the LLC was able to extend an offer to join our community to every single person who applied.”

Lindner is looking forward to the many opportunities that next year will bring, as the LLCs have formed a working group of leaders in order to foster greater enthusiasm for cross-LLC collaboration.

“This prospect really excites me,” Linder wrote. “Imagine an event about the intersection of religion and politics, co-hosted by Visions of Freedom and Eruditio et Religio. That kind of cross-disciplinary collaboration would enrich the experience for members of all the LLCs.”

Similar to Visions of Freedom, the Duke Smart Home Residential Program experienced greater application interest, with numbers at a record high of 144% from two years ago, sophomore member Himani Bhat wrote in an email.

Bhat wrote that in light of the pandemic and the changes in Duke’s residential organization, the Smart Home’s strong residential community and “opportunity to engage intellectually with other residents” were compelling.

“Each of this year’s record number of applicants is just as interested in and committed to our focus on sustainable, connected living as ever,” Bhat wrote.

Bhat also wrote that while there are many unknowns regarding housing for the upcoming year, the Smart Home provides a guaranteed place to live with a “family-like” community, numerous sustainable features, and the opportunity to “shape the future of a LEED Platinum, modular live-in laboratory,” all of which capture people’s interest as a “one-of-a kind, immersive experience.”

In terms of plans for next year, Bhat wrote that the residents of the Smart Home are hopeful for the return of in-person club activities. This past year, the program only has five residents due to the move to single dorms across campus. However, these students have formed the core of the project teams  and others have been able to help remotely plan.

Bhat wrote that the LLC is excited for the new class of 10 members to continue these pre-existing projects and start their own with the greater Smart Home Club.

“Many of our members are interested in outdoor projects for next year, specifically those that involve the Smart Home gardens,” Bhat wrote. “With this in mind, we expect to improve our ability to bring non-resident club members to the Smart Home to be involved through utilization of this outdoor space.”

Because the Smart Home is generally open to the public for tours, the residential program members not only have to think about their own LLC community but also the greater Duke community.

“Next year, we want to make sure that more students that express interest in the Smart Home  club or residential program can visit the space in-person, whether that be for a tour, to work on a project, or to just spend time with residents or club members,” Bhat wrote.

Bhat added that the hope is that all 10 of the students in the Smart Home next year will be able to live there together for the full duration. However, in the event that the COVID-19 situation in Durham gets worse before it gets better, the LLC will continue with virtual bonding events, which have been successful in the past.

“We are confident in our organization’s ability to continue to maintain a strong community even without face to face interaction,” Bhat wrote.


Alison Korn

Alison Korn is a Pratt sophomore and a features managing editor of The Chronicle's 117th volume.

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