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Living-Learning Community pilot continues

<ll-freshman Living-Learning Community piloted this year will continue with the class of 2021.

The Living-Learning Community consists of 13 students, all of whom live on the west side of Third Myers. The program is directed by Associate Dean of Students Joe Baggot and French professor Stephanie Cox. The students meet every Friday during 5a in First Myers to discuss topics of discourse and diversity on campus.

The Living-Learning Community was slated for a two-year pilot. Last year, Dean of Students Carolyn Livingston and Dean of the College Beverly Nagel received an Arthur Vining Davis Foundation grant for the Community. Baggot and Cox were not involved in the Community’s initial development but enthusiastically accepted Livingston’s offer to facilitate the program, Cox said.

Next year, the program will undergo an external review, according to Baggot. The reviewer will look over the curriculum, speak with students and report feedback to Livingston.

The Living-Learning Community will be located in Myers again, but it might move to a different floor. This is up in the air because of complicated housing demands, according to Baggot.

Baggot will co-facilitate the program again, and a new professor will replace Cox. This person has not yet been selected, Baggot said.

The Living-Learning Community aims to extend dialogue beyond the classroom. “Previously, any kind of facilitating difficult conversations seemed restricted to the classroom,” Cox explained. “There was a need, expressed in multiple ways—campus climate surveys, incident reports and people talking on campus—for taking the conversations out of the classroom and placing them where students live.”

The program’s entirely-freshman cohort offered benefits and challenges, according to member Cayden Ehrlich ’20. He noted that concentrating the group members into one section of the hallway created a perhaps too-insular community, separating them from the rest of their floor and the campus at large.

At the same time, he found that it was helpful for everybody to come from a common place. “It wasn’t like anyone had had more experience with discourse at Carleton than anyone else. We all had different levels of experience with discourse in the past, but we were all learning about how Carleton works at the same time.”

Alleana Austin ’20 pointed out that because the group meets only once a week, nine classes a term might not be enough to form relationships if the students didn’t also live together. “In a normal class, you see people two or three times a week. The extra face-time that comes from living in the same place builds a trust between us that might not be there otherwise.”

“The way you know people on your floor is very different from the way you know people in your classes,” she said. “So it’s helpful having that type of connection but also having this class together, where we’re talking about more personal experiences.”

In the spring, the group has focused on planning an end-of-term outreach project. They conducted three “Carl2Carl” tabling sessions, on Tuesday, May 9, Friday, May 12 and Thursday, May 18. At these discussion tables, members of the Living-Learning Community encouraged fellow Carls to sit and chat one-on-one about whatever was on their mind regarding campus discourse.

Members of the class had prompts at the ready, but they rarely used them because most participants started conversation themselves, according Jack Coyne ’20.

Ehrlich observed a significant shift in conversation topic during the two days he helped at the outreach table. On his first day of tabling, Carleton’s inadequate handling of mental-health issues was by far the most popular topic of conversation. The second day, though, every student he spoke to said that race issues on campus needed to be talked about more. “It was really interesting to see this complete shift in what people thought we should be talking about,” Ehrlich said.

The second day of tabling coincided with the racist incident at a party a few weeks ago, the subsequent demonstration in support of Latinx students on campus and the Facebook activity regarding POC voices on pages like Overheard at Carleton.

During the fall, the class read Clash by Alana Conner and Hazel Rose Markus. Both Austin and Ehrlich expressed reservations about the book, which struck them as rather generalizing.

“I had problems with the book,” said Ehrlich. “Not everything is just that binary, and the chapter about gender was extremely cisnormative and heteronormative. It was insulting in some ways.” After students expressed their concerns about the text, Cox and Baggot geared the class toward what students were more interested in, according to Austin.

In the winter, the group’s conversation shifted from the topic of discourse in general to Carleton-specific conversation. For instance, Ehrlich described a meeting in which students analyzed President Steve Poskanzer’s community-wide email about President Donald Trump’s immigration ban. The class looked at that email in the context of the response email sent by the anonymous “A Carl,” the subsequent response in The CLAP and the comparable letter written by Macalester’s president.

Overall, Ehrlich said, “Our goal is to spread awareness of the fact that we can love Carleton and think that it’s a great place, but that doesn’t mean we have to think that it’s perfect. There are issues that need to be addressed. Issues of sexual assault and racism definitely need to be talked about more on campus. We feel like the students are pretty distant from the administration, and we want to reach them.”

Cox expects the program to evolve in some ways for the class of 2021. “Next year’s iteration will probably be different, but I think that’s part of the goal of this project: for as many minds to get together on this as possible,” she said.

Baggot agrees that next year’s Living-Learning Community will bring some changes. “I have some ideas in my head. I want to let those sift and winnow a bit,” he said. Reflecting on the year with Cox and students’ course evaluations will inform the course’s development, Baggot said.

Current members have some ideas of their own. Coyne mentioned that because the group’s spring-term outreach project was so successful, next year’s group might want to consider doing outreach every term.

Ehrlich expressed interest in connection with next year’s group. He said that the current members are eager to talk to the incoming members and are interested in attending a class session or possibly establishing a mentoring system.

Baggot would like to see the program continue beyond its two-year pilot. “We do have challenges in talking and listening with one another, especially around difficult topics,” he said. “I think we need more opportunities, not less, for these conversations to be happening.”

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