Creating a Place to Call Home for Justice-Minded College Kids

Social justice–oriented living spaces are popping up at universities and colleges around the country.
(Photo: Xi Xin Xing/Getty Images)
Sep 3, 2016· 1 MIN READ
Rebecca McCray is a staff writer covering social justice. She is based in New York.

Campuses across the country are taking the storied youthful idealism of college students more seriously by creating accommodations and safe spaces for activism and social justice projects.

The University of North Dakota’s new Social Justice Living-Learning Community, called an LLC, houses a dozen students this year. UND is the latest university to provide a dorm option for students who want to organize service projects and have a supportive place to discuss pressing social justice issues.

“We were dealing with things like conversations about race, gender-inclusive housing, and access to locally sourced foods,” said Connie Frazier, executive director of housing and dining at UND. “All these threads were happening, and groups of students got together and decided we need a larger community where we can talk about this kind of stuff.”

Frazier and her department responded by carving out half a floor in one of the school’s residence halls for the LLC, home to about 35 beds, and invited students to apply for the program. The Social Justice LLC joins living communities at the school dedicated to wellness, engineering, and aviation.

During the LLC’s first semester, students will focus on “how we’re going to define social justice for our community and how to have conversations about complicated social issues,” Frazier said.

The new community in North Dakota is one of many similar programs available to students throughout the U.S.

At Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., students have the option to join a Justice and Diversity in Action living program that got its start roughly 14 years ago. The university announced this week that it will be renaming buildings and offering descendants of slaves special consideration in admissions—an attempt to reconcile the school’s slave-trading past.

Marilyn McMorrow, director of undergraduate studies in Georgetown’s government department, acts as an adviser and a faculty member in residence for students in the program.

“The school wanted to link its mission of education toward justice to [the LLC], so they asked if I would start one for social justice and service,” McMorrow told TakePart. “I said, ‘Of course.’ ”

The program occupies one floor of a residence hall and has space for 45 students. Each year, the floor comes up with a social service project to collectively take on.

“The issues we deal with take the coloration of the students who are in the community at any given time,” said McMorrow.

In their application to live on the floor, students are asked to explain which social justice issues they are passionate about and how they hope to become actively involved in working for change. This year McMorrow noticed a large number of applications that addressed an interest in working on police brutality and inequality in the criminal justice system as well as immigration. The floor has often housed undocumented students, some of whom have firsthand experience with the deportation of a parent or a family member.

“We have had an amazing mix of students,” said McMorrow. “The work for social justice has to include respect for authentic diversity.”