Academics and Research

Living Learning Communities bring like-minded students together

For some DU undergraduates, social justice isn’t just a topic you study: It’s a way of life.

Social Justice is one of five Living and Learning Communities (LLCs) at DU in which students live on the same residence hall floor, attend classes together in a particular area of interest, and participate in community service, leadership and personal growth activities throughout their freshman year. Other LLCs include Environmental Sustainability, Wellness, and Creativity and Entrepreneurship.

The Social Justice LLC was started in 2002 for students who want to tackle cultural, political, social and economic injustices and who desire to make the world a better place through community engagement.

The 22 Social Justice LLC participants reside in Johnson-McFarlane Hall and take classes including Social Justice and the Arts, Intellectual Foundations of Social Justice, and Stories of Social Justice. In the latter class, students explore how social justice is portrayed through digital media and create their own digital storytelling projects to communicate the lessons they’ve learned.

Unlike typical classes, course content isn’t set in stone; rather Faculty Director John Tiedemann encourages students to take responsibility for their education by deciding which topics they should study and why.

“This is a very miniature version of what social justice work is about—people getting together and figuring out what world they want to live in and making that world happen,” he says.

“One of the most important features of the course is that it provides the materials for the conversations that take place outside of the course,” Tiedemann continues. “[Students] go back to their dorm hall and they’re still talking about things and working things out together.”

Participating students also take part in activities throughout the year, including dinners, teach-ins and seminars, as well as a team-building fall retreat, excursions to plays and films, and volunteer projects at Urban Peak and the Denver GrowHaus.

“We want them to understand that as students and scholars, they are participating in the world, not merely observing or interpreting it, so they take responsibility for themselves as people actively involved in the world in a consequential way,” Tiedemann says.

“The biggest thing I’ve learned is that there’s support out there,” says student Makayla Cisneros. “Especially when you’re interested in social issues. It can feel like such a lonely battle, but it’s really encouraging to see that there are other people who are passionate about that and it helps you feel that you’re not alone. I feel like my DU experience would not be the same without it.”

Social justice students represent a variety of majors and tend to be more racially, ethnically and socioeconomically diverse than the general DU student population, says program coordinator Catherine Orsborn. It doesn’t cost extra to be in an LLC, but there is an essay-based application due the April prior to freshman year.

“We look for students who have different perspectives,” Orsborn says. “The point is to learn to move forward while working with people who see things differently than you and figuring out how to still be activists, because that’s the reality of working in this world: You’re going to be with people who don’t necessarily have the same outlook and approach. I think no matter what they end up doing, that will really benefit them in the future.”


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