When freshman Adam Cohen received a housing number at the bottom of the rising sophomore class, he was certain his options would be meager.
But next year, Cohen will move into a room in Guthridge Hall – his building of choice – alongside four of his closest friends. The five students will also be given a sum of $500 to spend on activities that promote school spirit.
Cohen is one of a growing number of students who opt for a living and learning community, a six-year-old housing program that allows students to organize groups with an educational- or community-focused mission. As a perk, the students are placed in areas of residence halls outside of the regular housing lottery and given funds to subsidize group projects.
“Once we got our housing numbers, we knew living together wasn’t really going to be an option,” said Cohen, who organized the Colonial Spirit LLC for next year, which will seek to boost support for the school’s less popular sports teams. “All of us on the floor are really good friends and we wanted to do something where we could keep us all together … and this is what he came up with.”
Originally developed in 1999 as a way to help incoming freshman find a social niche, the LLC program has expanded over the years to include more options for rising sophomores and upperclassmen. The number of sophomores participating in co-curricular, student-organized LLCs will increase from about 35 this year to more than 200 next fall.
In addition, the University has added seven new freshman communities and offers a number of academically linked LLCs accessible by special application, some of which provide housing scholarships to participating students.
As part of the program, LLCs are given a budget to organize activities together consistent with the theme of their community. Past events have included international trips, weekend getaways and group dinner outings.
“The wonderful thing about this program is that the students really create their own experience with a framework we provide,” said Matt Trainum, manager of services for students in transition, which oversees the LLC program. “As long as they’re staying active, we continue to help them and support them.”
Groups for next year run the gamut from LLCs focused on exercise and nutrition to communities geared toward art enthusiasts.
“We think this will allow us to do some really big things,” said Alexandra Taytum, who heads the You Got Served community, which focuses on community service. “We wanted to do more activities together, and all living next to each other just naturally makes that easier.”
Yet as the LLC program expands, questions remain regarding the effectiveness of the program. While most said they felt such programs served a good purpose, some students said their own participation was minimal.
Sophomore Dan Morgan, who receives a $3,000 housing stipend as member of the academic Capital Connections LLC to live in Francis Scott Key Hall, said he has attended just one group event over the past year and that he feels his LLC could have done more with their resources. His LLC has about 20 participants.
“I think it could stand to be more effective,” Morgan said. “Part of the problem was that we didn’t really know what was available to us and we came in with sort of a lack of specifics. I think there’s a lot of room for improvement.”
Other students said their primary reason for joining was to secure better housing. Sophomore Parinaz Farzinfarid said she joined the freshman Press Room LLC last year to live in the Hall on Virginia Avenue after registering late for housing. While she enjoyed the experience, she might have thought twice about it if the group had been placed in another building.
“I wanted to live in HOVA, and they told me at Colonial Inauguration that if you want to get in a certain building you should join a living and learning community,” said Farzinfarid. “I was thinking about becoming a journalism major anyway, so I thought that was a good fit.”
Trainum noted that groups are evaluated throughout the year by CLLC staff to ensure that they are maintaining their focus, and said he believes most groups serve their intended purposes.
“We’re trying to support students and their plans,” Trainum said. “Some years are more active than others, some groups are more active than others, and we know that. Our hope is just that our students benefit from them.”
Trainum said that priority housing is just one incentive of the LLC program and he believes the students who join do so for reasons beyond their own living situation.
“The students I’ve interacted with seem very committed to the program,” Trainum said. “Of course housing is important to everybody, but with that said, I think the students who have been admitted to the program seem very happy about it and seem very excited about it. It’s not really a concern of mine.”
While some said the programs could be improved, most said the LLC program plays an important role in campus life and should continue to be supported. Those in groups planned for next year were optimistic that they would make the most of the experience.
“It’s all dependent on us in terms of our success,” said Cory Whelan, a member of next year’s Colonial Sprit LLC. “I think if we really get out there and go to a lot of games and cheer on the teams, then we could really have a big impact.”