Evolution Through Living Learning Communities

by Cristian Cano | 9/19/18 10:42am

by Michael Lin / The Dartmouth

Before new students arrive on campus each fall, they are emailed a link to fill out the housing preference survey. This survey, which often comes as a relief to students whose friends at other schools got their housing information weeks prior, allows students to describe their housing and roommate preferences. Students can rank different styles of rooms, opt into living on a substance-free floor and even describe their potential roommates’ ideal levels of cleanliness, but there is another important choice they can make: they can choose to apply to a Living Learning Community.

LLCs are specific floors or buildings in which students can enhance their residential experience with a shared interest or background, often attending regular events and meals to connect with other students and faculty members. In order to live in an LLC, students must complete a short application process and commit to being active members of the community if accepted. While some LLCs are only open to upperclassmen, many are open to freshmen, and there are even LLCs exclusive to freshmen.

Among the many different kinds of LLCs are those based around a common identity, such as race and ethnicity or gender and sexuality. This week, the Mirror interviewed three students to learn about their experiences in these kinds of LLCs.

Gustavo de Almeida ’20 lived in Triangle House, a residence hall dedicated to the LGBTQIA+ community, during his freshman year, and the Italian language program in the Global Village during his sophomore year. He said that, identifying as both a gay person of color and an international student from Brazil, he was anxious about fitting in and meeting new friends in college. Triangle House seemed like an opportunity to meet people with some similar identities.

“The idea that I was going to live in a space that would provide me with a community right off the bat was very exciting to me,” de Almeida said.

De Almeida described his feelings of nervousness during the beginning of his freshman fall ­— some of which was due to the typical anxiety around starting college, some to the fact that many students at Dartmouth are from different racial and socioeconomic backgrounds. Thankfully, he got along well with his freshman year roommate, and with time he was able to make friends both within Triangle House and with other members of his class elsewhere.

When asked about the differences he perceived between Triangle House and the rest of campus as a whole, de Almeida said that while he hasn’t personally felt discrimination at Dartmouth because of his identity, he has friends who have, and overall Dartmouth feels very heteronormative to him. At Triangle House, he has felt more at ease expressing himself freely without feeling pressure to act in a masculine way.

“At Triangle House, I would feel more comfortable just being me and polishing my nails if I wanted to,” de Almeida said. “Or I’d find people who would dress similarly to the way I like dressing, or talk about things that I did, or got the same references.”

After his freshman year, de Almeida studied abroad in Rome on the Italian Language Study Abroad during his sophomore fall, and after coming back, he chose to live in the Italian language program instead of Triangle House to continue practicing his Italian and try something new. He missed certain aspects of Triangle House, which he partially blamed on the different housing structures: Triangle House is a standalone house, while during his sophomore year, the Italian Language Program occupied two of the River Apartments in Maxwell. Because of this, the Italian Language Program felt less like a shared living space.

This term, de Almeida is not living in an LLC at all. He attributed this to his busy schedule and inability to dedicate as much time as he would like to such a community.

“I know that there are some people that go [live in an LLC] just because it’s a nice place to live, but I like devoting time,” de Almeida said. “I know it’s a time commitment to live in an LLC.”

Kenya Pescascio ’20, like de Almeida, has also lived in multiple LLCs: during her freshman year she lived on the Thriving Through Transitions floor in McLaughlin Cluster, which is geared toward first-year students interested in taking advantage of different campus resources during their transition to college. Her sophomore year, she lived in the Latin American, Latino, and Caribbean House, and she recently began to live on the Gender Equity Program Floor this term.

Pescascio didn’t know about the LLCs until she opened the housing application, and as a first-generation, low-income college student, she thought Thriving Through Transitions floor would be an important community as she ventured into, in her own words, “uncharted territory.” Fortunately, her prediction was correct, and she describes many of her freshman floormates as some of her best friends even today.

“A lot of people in [Thriving Through Transitions] looked like me,” Pescascio said. “They came from similar backgrounds, so I felt like they would most understand where I was coming from. If I had any problems my freshman year, it would be very easy to talk to them.”

Thriving Through Transitions is a freshman-only LLC. In fact, Pescascio and some of her floormates tried to create a sophomore-year version of the LLC through the Design Your Own LLC program, but when the proposal was denied, she had to find another housing option. During her freshman year, Pescascio became involved with the Coalition for Immigration Reform, Equality and DREAMers, commonly shorted to CoFIRED, and made many friends in the LALAC house. For her, that made the LALAC house a clear choice for sophomore year housing.

One difference that Pescascio noted between Thriving Through Transitions and the LALAC house is that, because the LALAC house is a standalone building, it has live-in faculty advisors in addition to an undergraduate advisor. She appreciated this fact, saying that seeing adults doing “adult-y things” helped contribute to a sense of feeling at home.

Unfortunately, Pescascio’s application to live in the LALAC house this term wasn’t accepted — she thinks the Class of 2021 might have been given priority in the application process ­— though she is optimistic about living on the Gender Equity Program Floor this term. She attended her first floor meeting and left with a good first impression, so she hopes to take advantage of this opportunity to learn more about different gender equity issues. At the same time, she remains closely involved with CoFIRED and her friends in the LALAC house, briefly mentioning that the group is currently working toward getting a dean for undocumented students.

All in all, Pescascio is very grateful for her experience living in LLCs. These spaces are where she has been able to find community and discuss issues at Dartmouth, such as elitism, with her friends in a genuine way that isn’t always possible elsewhere on campus. She emphasized one advantage of LLCs being the natural, seemingly effortless way in which they can create strong bonds between residents.

“Dartmouth is a very fast-paced place, and you don’t always have time to actively build a community,” Pescascio said. “I think living in an LLC is a good way to have that community there that happens organically, without having to put in too much work.”

Darshina Yazzie ’19, unlike de Almeida and Pescascio, has only experienced one LLC, the Native American House, where she has lived since her sophomore year. She said that, because she’s been living at the Native American House for such a long time, she’s been able to see the progress that the community has made over the years toward being a more inclusive, welcoming space.

Yazzie, who is a part of the Navajo tribe, lived on a substance-free floor in the McLaughlin Cluster during her freshman year. At the time, freshmen were unable to live in the NAH — although, as of this past year, this policy has changed. Even though Yazzie did not live in the Native American House her freshman year, she still spent a great deal of time there with her friends.

“I came here, and I knew a lot of people in the NAD House because I went to school with them already, either in summer programs or in high school,” Yazzie said. “For my whole freshman year I studied here, pretty much slept here sometimes, cooked here.”

Because of her friends already in the house and the fact that the house is also substance-free, Yazzie felt very safe there, and her choice to live there starting her sophomore year was obvious. She described the many aspects of the house that she greatly appreciates, such as the nice rooms ­— hers this term has its own full bathroom — and the weekly Sunday dinners, which remind her of eating with her family back in Arizona.

Yazzie admitted that the house has had and still has some issues, which its residents are actively working to address. For example, during her freshman year, she found the house dominated by certain groups. The number of upperclassmen could sometimes make the house feel unwelcoming to freshmen, and members of certain tribes would sometimes make members of other tribes uncomfortable.

Through the recent change to allow freshmen to live in the NAH, Yazzie feels that the house now features a much better balance between the class years. While certain issues, like the over-prevalence of women and lack of men in the house, haven’t changed too much since her freshman year, overall she feels that the house is a much more welcoming place for all.

Yazzie said she would love for more people to come to the NAH. She admitted that some students on campus don’t even know that the NAH exists, and she reiterated that the house strives to be inclusive for everyone, even students who don’t identify as Native American.

De Almeida, Pescascio and Yazzie all expressed the value and positive impact that these identity-based LLCs have had on their Dartmouth experiences, and all three also encouraged other students, especially incoming students, to consider the LLCs when looking at housing. While it’s clear that these communities and friendships are not strictly tied to the LLC, nor do they end once someone moves out, the residential experience is undoubtedly important.

“[The LLCs] are the places where we get to find each other,” de Almeida said. “The physical space is very important.”