Living Learning Communities should focus on learning and not on their location

 Graphic courtesy of Emily Blomquist ’18

Graphic courtesy of Emily Blomquist ’18

BY CHLOE JENSEN ’20

While Mount Holyoke’s Learning Communities may be seemingly quirky and community-building, many of their interest-based floors prove to be an elaborate excuse to live in nice dorms, like Wilder or the Mandelles, and leave non-participating students with a higher chance of living in a lesser dorm. 

During the weeks leading up to last year’s housing lottery, I watched several of my classmates bypass the traditional process by opting into living in interest-based LLCs, which included language floors in the North and South Mandelles (with the exception of the first floor and basement) and the arts floors on the third and fourth floors of Wilder. Although students had to apply to live on these floors, once they were accepted onto the floor, their chances of obtaining a large, beautiful room in a desirable dorm increased significantly. 

After the housing lottery, many of the students who had opted into living in an LLC boasted about their excitement to live in Wilder or the Mandelles and rarely mentioned their excitement about participating in the actual community. Some non-participating students, who had never considered living in an LLC, expressed how they should have opted into the alternative housing lottery.

This rise in choosing LLCs based primarily on location and the chances of receiving a spacious, desirable dorm has two major problems: first, it leaves fewer admirable and sought-after dorms for other students, and secondly, it often defeats the purpose of the LLC in the first place.

According to the College website, LLCs “provide opportunities for students who share common educational, social or co-curricular interests to live together in residence halls,” In theory, LLCs make sense and have a place in our community. They are intended to be common living spaces for students who share similar interests. However, they often fall short of this expectation. 

As Kali Alexander ’20 said, there is “far less German being spoken as I had hoped,” primarily because of the desirability of the Mandelles. If students are only opting into these floors for their beautiful views of Skinner Green or Lower Lake, the purpose of a language floor is entirely defeated. Residents will not have an interest in learning about and communicating in German, but rather, the single that they managed to score as a rising sophomore with no accommodations. 

This is not to mention our identity and marginalized-identity-based LLCs, like the Mary Woolley floor in Abbey Hall for LGBTQ+ students and the Mosaic and Shirley Chisholm floors for students of color and students of African descent, respectively, in North Rockefeller Hall. These floors provide a sanctuary and an important safe space for students, and are not a part of my argument against the formulation of LLCs; and frankly, our marginalized students should have more spaces available to them. Being a person of color and/or LGBTQ is an axis of oppression; speaking French, or enjoying sculpting and drawing, is not. I wonder how enthusiastic LLC participants would have been about their arts floor had it been based in 1837 Hall rather than Wilder. 

Students who have designated themselves as interested in learning languages or becoming artists should not have a better experience with the College’s housing lottery. Frankly, it is unfair that some students with these interests are automatically guaranteed a nicer dorm.

Disconnecting applications from the dorms they’re housed in is essential in creating LLCs that are both fair to other students and maintain the purpose of the communities themselves. Kali Alexander ’20 said she thinks “[LLCs] should remain open and available for students genuinely interested and committed to learning the language of their respective floors.” Alexander suggested that one way Residential Life could accomplish is to have “a more thorough application process.” Residential Life could also have students apply to live in the LLC before revealing which dorm they will take place in. 

While there is a place for collaborative learning among residential life at Mount Holyoke, it should not be overshadowed by our gorgeous, palace-like dorms. 

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