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UND launches new social justice LLC for fall semester

GRAND FORKS--Internet blogs have been teeing off on the University of North Dakota's recently launched social justice living learning community, which has surprised Connie Frazier, executive director of housing and dining at the school.

GRAND FORKS-Internet blogs have been teeing off on the University of North Dakota's recently launched social justice living learning community, which has surprised Connie Frazier, executive director of housing and dining at the school.

"This is one of the best lessons in what social justice is and helping to have a conversation with people who maybe aren't so sure about what you're trying to do," Frazier said.

The social justice living learning community is designed for students who are interested in learning more about and practicing principles of social justice, including issues of equality and diversity involved in promoting a more inclusive and just society, and interested in bringing about positive social change, according to UND's website.

But the concept of this particular LLC is nothing new, Frazier said.

Currently, UND has five different LLCs - aviation, engineering and mines, honors, wellness and now social justice.

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How it works

With LLCs, a group of students live together on a floor of a specific residence hall. They are setup to extend the learning experience outside the classroom.

For the academic-based ones, the academic departments set up activities where the faculty members interact with the students outside the classroom, Frazier said. That might include the faculty member presenting research, talking about career opportunities or helping tutor students, among things.

The wellness LLC students worked with personnel at the Wellness Center, which included students taking a trip to Turtle River State Park and doing volunteer work on campus.

"Just like the national research shows, the studies we've done on campus show that the students in the LLCs when compared to their peers in the same major, they get better grades, they persist in the major better, they are retained at higher rates and they feel a close connection to their peers in the classes," Frazier said.

The social justice community is different in that it does not have a concrete mission or definition, as of now, Frazier said. That's up for the students who are participating to decide.

That could mean the students focus on gender roles, racial issues, socioeconomic status, or other related topics, she said.

"I think what they've discovered is how they define themselves is going to matter," Frazier said. "There are strong views of what others might want us to be defined as, but this group wants to be the one to define what this group is."

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The idea for the social justice LLC came from conversations within the residence halls about how to be inclusive, especially with housing and how it relates to LGBT students.

National scope

At the same time, Frazier said, there was a larger, national dialogue about events that happened in Missouri involving race relations, as well as in Grand Forks after the Juba Coffee House was set on fire.

"All of this stuff is happening," Frazier said. "Students are aware of those conversations. They aren't as unplugged as many think they are. They know it's happening and they have the same questions the rest of us have. How do I feel about this? I feel strongly about these issues, how do I be a part of this?"

The idea was then taken to the hall government, which passed a resolution to start the LLC this fall.

"When students leave here, they're going to graduate and enter a world that's complicated," Frazier said. "This is a place to start having conversations about problems that don't have easy answers."

Similar social justice LLCs are offered at various universities across the country, including Florida State University, Marquette University and American University, among others.

Frazier said she knows the social justice LLC isn't for everyone, and that's OK. But she said she thinks a community, such as this one, is necessary to advance the conversations on potentially difficult topics.

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"I think it reinforces that there's a need for the dialogue," she said. "There's a need for the community to have these conversations. So, hopefully, this will be a positive thing."

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