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We belong here: TU’s redesigned living-learning communities

The University of Tulsa welcomed students to its redesigned living-learning communities (LLCs) in fall 2020. Growing in popularity at universities and colleges across the country, LLCs are a type of residence hall neighborhood that brings together students who share similar academic and/or personal interests and, thereby, help to foster engagement and belonging.

an illustration of five university residences with four cartoon people in front“These common-interest living communities offer residents exclusive learning opportunities with faculty and staff around shared passions,” explained Scott Gove, TU’s associate director of residence life. “The students who choose to live in one of our LLCs have ready access to events, programming and dedicated leaders. LLCs help them establish friendships and apply what they learn in class to everyday life.”

Homes sweet homes

TU currently offers four LLCs:

In 2021-22, the university plans to expand the University Honors LLC into campus apartments and have students from the 2020-21 cohort serve as mentors for the new incoming group. A fifth LLC will also be added to the roster: Esports & Gaming will be a home for students interested in gaming, either as a member of university-sponsored Esports teams or as a recreational gamer.

From the classroom to the living room

After having worked as a resident assistant (RA) during his sophomore and junior years, Jacob Welsh was keen to serve as the RA during his senior year with the University Honors LLC. “My main roles are to ensure safety, provide academic and personal support/resources, create a social and inviting community, and cater to the interests of those in the community,” Welsh observed. “But in an LLC, the scope of each of these roles can be narrowed and capitalized on to provide the best experience for residents.”

For Denise Dutton, the University Honors LLC faculty advisor, one of the great benefits of LLCs is that they bring together students from a variety of disciplines. For University Honors residents, “that makes it a space where everybody gets to practice both sharing their expertise and also thinking as a curious and informed non-expert.”

In fact, Dutton sees a profound connection between this living arrangement and students’ academic explorations: “I just can’t imagine a better way to complement the Honors curriculum’s study of human culture and individual liberty than by living in this interdependent community where our day-to-day choices are illuminated by our shared study of the moral, political and scientific arguments that have shaped our society.” For Dutton, the “deeper lesson” that her LLC fosters is that “each of us has the power and the responsibility to choose what to think about, and how to think about it well. That lesson, after all, is at the heart of a transformative liberal arts education.”

Getting involved and making connections

Welsh agrees that LLCs are uniquely able to unite people who share common interests, and he notes the power of LLCs to create events that cater to those investments. That is not to say, however, that LLCs demand the same level of involvement from all residents: “each person can explore their interests however and at the level of engagement they are comfortable with,” Welsh said. “Residence Life staff do not force any student to participate in events if they wouldn’t like to. But by encouraging involvement, residents can realize their fit in a community that satisfies their interests and personal connections.”

 

For those who do choose to participate in, for example, programs that bring students and professors together, the dividend, said Dutton, can be a “deepening of students’ meaningful relationships with faculty mentors, which, research suggests, is the most important contributor to learning in college.” For University Honors residents, such opportunities have included invited faculty lectures, informal dinner-and-movie nights, faculty-vs-student soccer matches and local outings to, for instance, attend the Tulsa Opera or stargaze at Gilcrease.

Conversation, laughter and friendship

Computer science major Grace Havrilka is someone who has found both a community and a way to develop her interests through involvement in an LLC. Havrilka’s primary motivation for applying to live in TU’s Gender & Sexuality Inclusivity LLC was the desire for the unique experience of being surrounded by people who share a similar worldview and/or who identify as LGBTQIA+.

Thus far, Havrilka could not be more pleased by her choice. For one thing, “living in this LLC lends itself to way more discussions than most other spaces do,” she noted. For example, prior to the winter break, members watched the lesbian-themed holiday film Happiest Season over Zoom and then had a rich discussion of sexuality in both the film and media at large. Residing in TU’s Gender & Sexuality Inclusivity LLC has also opened new opportunities for Havrilka. Recently, for example, she was a part of a panel to discuss how to ensure that the roommate finder survey is as inclusive as possible and worded in such a way as to optimize responses.

Havrilka’s comments are borne out by Welsh’s experience on the RA side: “Although all events this year have either been virtual or socially distanced, engagement opportunities are the best way to provide residents with both tangible and intangible resources, all while allowing conversations, laughter and friendships to grow and thrive.” Welsh also spends a good deal of energy finding out about his LLC members’ personal interests, knowledge that empowers him to plan events that resonate and meet their needs.

Virtual community-building

LLCs are designed to bring people together; however, figuring out how to meet safely and which activities are viable during the COVID-19 pandemic has been a big challenge. Yet, technology and the desire to connect have enabled community members to grow their bonds.

“All our meetings have to be virtual,” Havrilka explained, “but we have a Microsoft Teams chat available to us and staff willing to answer questions. New groups are also forming, such as a Gender Identity group, for people to discuss and explore their gender identity while meeting other people who share it.”

Virtual events, such as Zoom book clubs and works-in-progress forums have been beneficial, remarked Dutton, “but we are eager once it is safe to return to breaking bread together so as to deepen our connections to one another.”


LLCs “enable you to meet new people, have interesting discussions and find new opportunities,” said Grace Harvilka, a resident in the Gender & Sexuality Inclusivity LLC. “I would definitely recommend this experience to any students who are interested!” If you are curious about joining this community or one of TU’s other dynamic LLCs, get in touch with the Office of Housing & Dining, which operates in partnership with Residence Life’s LLC curriculum.

Elevating athletic trainers’ standard of care through cultural competency education

The population of the United States is increasingly diverse and athletic trainers (ATs) have a professional obligation to expand their cultural competency and provide the highest standard of care for their patients. In a nutshell, that’s the argument master of athletic training (MAT) student Hana Clancy is making.

“In order to grow the athletic training profession,” Clancy noted, “the gold standard should be developing culturally competent clinicians who provide transcultural health care. The minimum standard our profession should strive for is to possess, practice and continue to grow our cultural competency skills and knowledge. The bottom line is that ATs must accept and respect people who are different than themselves.”

Hana Clancy in a garden
MAT student Hana Clancy

Clancy’s position is supported by the extensive research she has undertaken in an MAT course called Research for Practice. Rachel Hildebrand, the director of the MAT program, noted that “developing the desire to conduct investigations on given topics is emphasized throughout all aspects of our students’ curricular progression. Research for Practice enables them to initiate the process of evidence-based practice by allowing them to study a topic of their choosing.”

As part of this course, students can submit their project to the Mid-America Athletic Trainers’ Association Annual Symposium for peer review and possible selection on the program. Clancy’s work on cultural competency among ATs was accepted for presentation at the gathering in March 2020; however, as a result of COVID-19, this year’s symposium was canceled.

Focus areas for cultural competency training

For her study, Clancy chose to explore three areas of cultural competency that “should be explicitly taught in athletic training education programs (ATEPs)”:

  • Athletes who have high adverse childhood experience (ACE) scores (i.e., trauma and stress between the ages of 0 and 18)
  • Athletes who identify as LGBTQ+
  • Athletes of color

“It’s important to note,” said Clancy, “that these categories often overlap.” For instance, “people who identify as LGBTQ+ and people of color statistically will experience more ACEs due to the oppression, discrimination and stigmatization they face throughout their lifetimes. This complex relationship is further evidence in favor of the need for cultural competency education in ATEPs.”

This need is underscored by one of Clancy’s more arresting findings during her literature review: a significant gap between ATs’ self-reported high levels of cultural competence (mean = 90%) vs their Cultural Competence Assessment scores (mean = 68.5%). “In other words,” she remarked, “ATs overestimate their cultural competence.”

Opportunities to improve the standard of care

“Hana’s project is very timely and fits with a focus within the athletic training profession and the National Athletic Trainers’ Association,” noted Robin Ploeger, dean of the Oxley College of Health Sciences and an expert in the field of athletic training. “Health care providers, including ATs, treat a wide range of people. It is vital that we understand their differences and how that can affect the care we provide to them.”

Clancy’s research led her to identify the lack of cultural competence amongst ATs as a serious threat to providing optimal care to their patients. “As health care providers,” she contended, “ATs should not tolerate an environment that does not support positive physical and mental health for all patients, regardless of cultural differences. Just as the AT profession advocates for the promotion of all aspects of physical health, it must also promote all aspects of mental health. Only then, will ATs have the opportunity to enhance the standard of care.”

Part of Clancy’s project entailed providing workable solutions to enhance cultural competency among ATs. First and foremost is the immediate inclusion of relevant training in ATEPs, both for AT students and in continuing education programs for practicing ATs. This would entail social, ethical and professional skills that enable them to work with diverse patients as well as with colleagues who may be different than themselves.

Another way – “perhaps the easiest method,” she noted – is to increase the number of diverse AT students. Accomplishing this would require ATEPs to actively recruit diverse candidates to their programs. The fact that 86% of the membership of the National Athletic Trainers’ Association is white underscores Clancy’s point.

“I hope my research helps ATEP leaders think and act in a new way,” Clancy said. “We know that culturally competent ATs directly increase patient health outcomes. Now is the time to diversify our profession.”

 


Are you interested in a career in one of the fastest-growing professions in the United States? Then consider applying to TU’s master of athletic training program.