Book cover for The Faculty Factor: Developing Faculty Engagement with Living Learning Communities
Buy in Print

ISBN: 9781642672534

January 2023

When faculty enter student spaces in LLCs, some faculty may feel out of their element (Kennedy, 2011). Faculty may be uncertain of how to advertise events so that students show up (see introduction to Chapter 1), or have trouble breaking the ice with students at social events. In the next section, we offer pointers that faculty can use—or offer to their colleagues—to increase confidence while engaging in student spaces.

Advertising:  Students report that they are more likely to attend an event when they’ve heard about it from multiple sources. We encourage faculty to follow the “rule of three” and advertise their programs across at least three different mediums via at least three different sources. For example, you could print posters to hang in high-traffic areas around the LLC, create a digital graphic for the resident assistants and other student leaders to send to residents via phone (using text, GroupMe, WhatsApp, etc.), and both verbally remind residents when you see them and email them in the days leading up to the event.

Breaking the ice: Faculty can feel intimidated when entering student spaces. Faculty may want to respect students’ relationships with each other during out-of-class time, or they may not know how to jump into student conversations. However, one of the goals of faculty involvement in LLCs is blurring this distinction between academic time and social time; between in-class and out-of-class. Therefore, we have three recommendations for “breaking the ice” with students.

  1. Provide structure for the event: When planning faculty-student engagement programs, be sure to structure the interactions to ensure both student and faculty comfort. In Elon University’s Colonnades Neighborhood, Faculty Director Terry Tomasek has a weekly “T-Room,” where students and faculty gather for tea and conversation. Faculty are selected via student nomination, and then Tomacek reaches out to potential guests via email, outlining expectations for their visit. She writes:

    “The purpose of this interaction is for students and faculty to engage informally (without grading—my favorite part). No power point required! Just simply being in the moment, spending time with students to show them that faculty/staff are ‘real people’ too.”

    In addition to outlining expectations in the invitation, Tomasek provides prompts to the faculty guest for discussion, such as “What took you into your academic career?”, “What were some of the inner and outer drivers that moved you in this direction?”, and “Share what you are passionate about and listen to students talk about their passions.” In addition to bringing stories for conversation, faculty attendees might also bring tea or a snack that reminds them of their home country or research site.

  2. Plan events with students: Whether academic, social, or experiential programming, it is important for students to be involved in the planning. LLC programs are most successful when students are invested in the program’s success, and the collaboration itself can be important sites of faculty-student engagement. For example, trivia nights are a fun way for LLC students to interact socially around academic themes. When developing trivia questions, students and faculty can work together to develop questions that are not only interesting to students but also work well for trivia. As longtime Jeopardy! writer Billy Wisse says, “There’s a saying in quiz shows, that a good question has to get one of three reactions: ‘I knew that,’ or ‘darn I should have known that,’ or ‘I didn’t know that, but now I’m glad I do’” (Wenz, 2018). Working together, faculty can mentor students to research and write the questions for trivia night, gaining important academic skills—like how to properly choose and cite a source for a difficult trivia question—along the way.
  3. Flip the script and make students the teachers: In Preston Residential College at the University of South Carolina, students participate in a short-term study abroad to Morocco. As part of their experiential learning, students take a three-credit course about Morocco (co-taught by the Faculty Principal and Assistant Principal), apply for undergraduate research grants, complete a project onsite, and then present it to the broader university community once they return. As a culminating project, they showcase their work and research, and they are able to teach others about what they have learned—topics have ranged from the role of women to French colonization to advertising. Students’ mentors, faculty associates, members of the study abroad office and from undergraduate research attend and participate in the mini presentations about the students’ experiences and research in Morocco.

Meaningful interactions: One challenge in LLC programming, especially for larger communities, is creating the conditions for meaningful interaction. Sriram and McLevain (2016) describe these interactions as “deeper life interactions,” which are distinct from social and academic interactions, and are related to meaning, value, and purpose. Research indicates that one reason faculty presence in LLCs is so valuable is that for some groups of students, such as students of color and first-generation students, they are more likely to have these deeper life interactions with faculty than with their peers (Sriram et al., 2020). For some faculty, these deeper life interactions can be more out of their comfort zone than academic interactions. Therefore, we provide some recommendations for creating conditions where they can occur—and some recommendations for safe ways to accomplish these interactions.

  1. Office hours (or “Student hours”): These hours are typically required of teaching faculty. We recommend that faculty affiliated with LLCs hold at least some of their office hours within the community (if their office is not already located there). The Faculty Principal at Preston Residential College at the University of South Carolina (Lara Lomicka) typically holds her student hours every Wednesday evening from 8-10pm, and has plenty of snacks and “toys” (such as squishies, slimes, and kinetic sand available for stress relief). Additionally, we recommend that faculty invite conversation on topics beyond their classes. They might add a short “Ask Me About” section to their LLC syllabus, email signature, or in an LLC newsletter. The topics listed might include something disciplinary, something related to a hobby or experience, and something engaging/fun. For example, Jennifer might write, “Ask me about: Peace Corps, writing, or learning a new language!”, and Lara might write: “Ask me about: gardening, study abroad, or graduation with leadership distinction.”
  2. Be a visible presence: Regularly interacting with students in their space builds normalcy and trust. When possible, join students in their dining hall, join them in their common spaces, and attend their events. Be present and express an interest in the students. Get to know as many students as possible by name and story (to quote Jill Stratton, chapter 7). Utilize take-your-professor to lunch programs (or create one for your LLC) to create opportunities for conversation. Not every conversation will be meaningful; however, by being available, students will be able to turn to you when they need it.
  3. Interact with students regularly, over time: When you engage with students in LLCs, whether by teaching a class or serving as a mentor, interactions become more meaningful over time. This practice is common to the residential college model, with students residing in the community for multiple years. Whether leading an LLC where students return to live in community for multiple years, or a one-year living situation, we encourage faculty to design interactions that can accumulate over time. Like we described in the conclusion, engaging with students in multiple ways integrates faculty more deeply into the community.
  4. Utilize your full humanity: Being a whole person in this role means bringing your family, your pets, your hobbies, etc. into the LLC. College students are often homesick for their own families, so bringing your dog to an outdoor event, or your toddler to a weekend event serves as a quick icebreaker. Even if you don’t have children or pets, bringing something you love (such as food or plants) into your LLC gives students proof of your humanity and often invites deeper conversation.
  5. Setting boundaries: When creating opportunities for deeper life interactions, it is also important to recognize that there also need to be clear boundaries between faculty and students. From a legal perspective, living-learning programs should connect with the Title IX office to determine if they should play a role in faculty training—the same goes for counseling services and other relevant offices (see chapters 6 and 7 for related campus partners). It is a good practice to keep your office door open during student interactions. Faculty should also determine their personal boundaries related to student interactions and how to redirect students if these boundaries are crossed. For example, one faculty member may consider themselves an open book, but not want to talk about their faith. Another faculty member may be excited to bring their family to events, but not allow photographs of their children to be posted publicly.