Diversity & Democracy: Civic Learning for Shared Futures
Diversity Innovations Institutional Leadership and Commitment
Diversity Digest Volume 7, Number 4

Diversity Digest
Volume 7,
Number 4

Download our print issue (PDF)
Institutional Leadership and Commitment
Learning Through Evaluation: The James Irvine Foundation Campus Diversity Initiative (CDI) Project
James Irvine Foundation’s Campus Diversity Initiative
Diversity Climate Surveys:
Worth the Effort
Unleashing the Power of Metaphor: Pepperdine University
Implications of Prop 54
Faculty Involvement
Enhancing Diversity: University of Southern California
More than Bittersweet Success: University of the Pacific
Curricular Transformation
Institutionalizing Diversity: Occidental College
Educating for a Just Society: University of San Francisco
Making Diversity News
Media Watch
Teaching Students Media Skills
AAC&U Evaluation Resources
Irvine CDI Evaluation Resources
DATA: Capturing Hopes

Institutionalizing Diversity:
Living and Learning Communities at Occidental College

By Eric Newhall, director, Core Program; Andrea Hopmeyer-Gorman, associate professor of psychology; Jonathan Nakamoto, student; and Brandon Carroll, student, all of Occidental College

At Occidental College we believe an effective strategy for institutionalizing diversity in the midst of ongoing national “culture wars” is to adopt educational models and practices that nurture and sustain diversities of all kinds, while simultaneously helping our undergraduates to strengthen their skills in critical thinking, expository writing, and public speaking. Furthermore, we see no need to choose between the twin goals of our college mission—excellence and equity. We consider these two goals to be inextricably intertwined. Because many U.S. students are reared and educated in isolated racial enclaves, we need educational models and practices that interrupt and reverse this disturbing social pattern. One such model is Occidental College’s “Pilot Learning and Living Community (LLC).”

For two academic years (1999-2000 and 2000-2001), the LLC placed four Core Seminars in one residence hall, reaching a total of sixty-four students each of the two years of the pilot. This model cultivates academic excellence while simultaneously fostering intercultural competence and the type of intergroup dialogue necessary if our diverse democracy is to be effective in the twenty-first century.

The results of our careful assessment of the Pilot LLC Program were strikingly positive in a number of areas. Students in the Pilot LLC Seminars endorsed statements that indicated achievement of the LLC’s learning goals more strongly than did their counterparts in the non-LLC Seminars. Consequently, in the spring of 2001 our faculty voted unanimously to make the Living and Learning Community experience available to all first-year students in the fall 2002 semester.

Campus leaders should keep in mind that promising practices are highly contextual. What works in a large research institution may not be easily transferred to a small residential liberal arts college and vice versa. However, the core principles that underlie promising practices are applicable.

In addition, our Faculty Committee on General Education has made nine other recommendations in an effort to create Living and Learning Communities designed to foster both intercultural dialogue and academic excellence. Although we are in the initial stages of developing our LLCs, our evaluations suggest these recommendations constitute promising practices that others in the higher education community may wish to consider.

Structural Cross-Divisional Links

The Core Seminar rather than some other course should be the link with residence halls, especially because the Seminar emphasizes writing, critical thinking, and public speaking. These Seminars are designed to help all students make a smooth transition into college by the end of the first semester, but they may be particularly important for first-generation college students and underrepresented minority students.

All Core Seminars should be scheduled from 11:30-12:30 on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. In his book, Making the Most Out of College, Richard Light suggests scheduling classes before dinner on the grounds that some students will continue an interesting discussion over dinner when the class is over. The same argument would seem to apply to classes scheduled right before the lunch hour.

First-year students should be encouraged (not required) to enroll in the Intercultural Dialogue Pilot Program (Psychology 110, a two-unit course taught on a credit/no credit basis by peer-facilitators who have received appropriate training). Preliminary assessment of this program suggests that the Dialogues lead to enhanced “intercultural competence” on the part of most, if not all, participants.

Positive Pedagogies

Students should be required to peer edit each other’s papers throughout the semester. This practice enables students from all backgrounds to move beyond racial and ethnic stereotypes and know each other on a deeper level while at the same time helping them to improve their writing skills. It has the additional advantage of allowing the instructor to read second drafts of essays rather than first drafts. Instructors should provide students with guidance in the process of peer editing.

Core Seminar instructors should break their students into small groups (four students per group) on a regular basis. Shy students will speak up more easily in smaller groups. In addition, students who are assigned the task of interpreting a poem or short story will observe that their perspective will often differ from that of their classmates who come from different socioeconomic or ethnic backgrounds. Troy Duster, sociologist at UC Berkeley, has observed that this process of becoming aware of different perspectives constitutes a powerful form of multicultural education.

Instructors of Core Seminars, in conjunction with the residence hall staff, should encourage all Living and Learning Communities to participate in community service projects off campus. One recent study (Inkelas and Weisman, 2003) suggests that, “openness to and tolerance for diversity is associated most strongly with peer interactions and not academic activities.” The authors go on to suggest that, “perhaps this is a call to include a service learning opportunity into all living-learning programs.”

Faculty Roles and Authority

Core Seminar instructors should be charged with becoming surrogate academic advisors for students in their class. All students have a formal academic advisor, but they sometimes see this person only once or twice per semester. In contrast, students see their Core Seminar instructor three hours per week in class and numerous times outside of class. Core Seminar instructors are sometimes well-positioned to help students make the transition from high school to college.

Core Seminar instructors should be given funds to use as they see fit for experiential learning opportunities. One or two field trips into the city of Los Angeles will introduce students to a range of cultural traditions and will also help strengthen the sense of community in the class. A growing body of scholarship suggests that students benefit from relating to their instructors in informal as well as formal settings.

Student Assessments of The Core Seminar

“In my Core Seminar I learned to consider different points of view.”
“In my Core Seminar I showed drafts of my papers to other students in my Core Seminar.”
“Outside of my class, I had conversations with other frosh about topics discussed in my Core Seminar.”
“I feel that I can count on the other students in my Core Seminar for academic support.”
“My Core Seminar provided me with a sense of community”
“I feel like I belong to the Occidental community.”

Offer the widest possible range of Core Seminar topics rather than attempting to teach a common syllabus or common theme to all entering students. The wide range of topics helps students who share similar interests to find each other early in their academic experience. The wide range of topics increases the likelihood that students will become engaged with each other and the institution.

At Occidental, we are in the initial stages of creating Living and Learning Communities that increase contact between students and faculty, opportunities for off-campus service learning in culturally diverse Los Angeles, a supportive residence environment, peer editing of essays, and frequent discussions with peers about both academic and social issues. Our goal is to institutionalize diversity by demonstrating its inextricable connection to academic excellence. We believe that our residence halls and the intergroup dialogues that take place within them have the potential to become what David Schoem and Sylvia Hurtado (2001) have called “diverse twenty-first-century versions of homogeneous nineteenth-century town hall meetings” (4). We plan to continue to assess our Learning and Living Communities over the next few years to determine if their apparent potential and promise does, in fact, lead to the concrete student-learning outcomes we desire.


Duster, Troy, 1993. The diversity of California at Berkeley: an emerging reformulation of ‘competence’ in an increasingly multicultural world. In B.W. Thompson and Sangeeta Tyagi (eds.), Beyond a Dream Deferred: Multicultural Education and the Politics of Excellence. Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press.
Schoem, David & Sylvia Hurtado (Eds). 2001. Intergroup dialogue: Deliberative democracy in school, college, community, and workplace. Ann Arbor, MI: The University of Michigan Press.
Inkelas, Karen Kurotsuchi & Jennifer L. Weisman. 2003. Different by design: An examination of student outcomes among participants in three types of living-learning programs. Journal of College Student Development, 44:3, 358.
Light, Richard J. 2001. Making the Most of College. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Student Assessments of The Core Seminar
“In my Core Seminar I learned to consider different points of view.”
“In my Core Seminar I showed drafts of my papers to other students in my Core Seminar.”
“Outside of my class, I had conversations with other frosh about topics discussed in my Core Seminar.”
“I feel that I can count on the other students in my Core Seminar for academic support.”
“My Core Seminar provided me with a sense of community”
“I feel like I belong to the Occidental community.”

Questions, comments, and suggestions regarding Diversity & Democracy should be directed to Kathryn Peltier Campbell at campbell@aacu.org.
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