Kent State considers expanding living learning communities

Leah Marxen

Kent State currently has 11 living-learning communities on campus, and is considering adding more, specifically adding new ones centered more around special interests rather than academics.

LLCs are housing communities designed to connect students who share a similar academic path or special interest. The LLCs on Kent’s campus are mostly academically based within a college. Two special interest communities currently serve LGBTQ and international students.

Research is taking place to form more living-learning communities, because they benefit both students and the university, said Chris Tankersley, the associate director of student learning and assessment.

“We have gone through a lot of research and introspection of looking at what are different ways that we can help students do two things: get more connected on campus and just feel like this is where they want to be, in however way that looks to them,” Tankersley said. “…really looking at our learning communities and knowing that research tells us that it will help with student retention and lead towards graduation and lead towards students being connected to campus.”

Some of the living-learning communities have been around for about 20 years, Tankersley said. Among the newest LLCs is the LGBTQA community.

Tankersley and the residence services team are conducting focus groups with high school students and current students living in communities to hear opinions on LLCs.

What are current students saying about LLCs?

“I thought it would be nice to be around people who are in the same major as me, so if we were taking similar classes they could help me,” said Caroline Foutty, a freshman early childhood education major living in the education, health, and human services LLC.

Her first semester was more engaging than the second, Foutty said. She believed there were aspects of the living communities that could be improved.

“Maybe just like doing activities that will bring kids together that are more centered around our major,” Foutty said.

“For me, it was more I could find friends in other LLCs or anywhere I want on campus, but this is one opportunity I have to have one central hub of people who have the same values as me,” said Alice Marron, a freshman political science major living in the honors LLC.

LLCs bring engagement and community, said both Foutty and Marron.

“When done well, they really do create a community for students. I have found that students just get closer to each other and get more comfortable with each other and they are a little vulnerable with each other, so they are more willing to ask questions and reach out,” Tankersley said.

Tankersley and his team believe there is a lack for a certain kind of living community: special interest communities.

“A lot of other schools around the country have communities set up for students who are interested in outdoor adventure, for an example,” Tankersley said. “There is also a strong academic connection to that. Students are majoring in different majors, if you’re interested in outdoors, you can tie that to business, fashion, it can connect to all majors.”

The University of Pittsburgh has 17 living-learning communities, featuring more special interest groups rather than academics. For example, one LLC at Pitt is the Healthy U LLC, focusing on having a healthy mind and body. The university also provides a Service to Others living community that helps students give and volunteer in the local community.

Marron disagrees with the expansion into special interest LLCs.

“LLCs should benefit your academics, to make you feel at home at Kent. It’s not like we are tied together by our special interests, we’re here for a certain purpose in the honors LLC,” she said.

Foutty, however agrees that the push into special interest LLCs would be beneficial to prospective students.

“Some kids coming into college, they might not have any friends, especially first-year students. It would help them meet people and build a sense of community. I know in that aspect last semester it helped me, knowing that there are people with similar majors and interests around me,” she said.

She supports Tankersley’s point that these communities can help students become more comfortable with each other.

“It’s built around something that students self-disclose that they’re interested in, so logic will tell you if you’re interested in outdoor adventure, you say you want to join this community, you’re more inclined to be active in that community,” Tankersley said.

Leah Marxen covers housing. Contact her at [email protected]