Molly Parker

UVM doesn’t need learning communities

March 8, 2023

UVM’s Learning Communities provide a false idea of dormitory living and do not meet the expectations they claim to fulfill. 

All the information I received about the Learning Communities as an incoming first-year was a few short paragraphs from Residential Life. 

Though I was excited to see all the different options, like Outdoor Experience and Sustainability, each community’s description felt vague. The information about the dorms was very general, making it seem like each living space could appeal to anyone. 

I felt a little lost, not really knowing what to expect. I constructed this image of organized activities and dorm-wide projects with each dorm having something that stood out, living up to its name. 

I logically knew that this probably wouldn’t be the case. After all, a college dorm is a college dorm—it can only be so special. 

“For most UVM students, the housing experience takes place in Learning Communities, which are designed to bring students with a shared interest together and—most importantly—provide a feeling of home,” states the Learning Communities page

I also felt a little nervous about the intensity of these interests. 

If I ended up in Sustainability, I doubted I was eco-friendly enough. And if I ended up in Arts & Creativity, I feared my clothes weren’t creative enough or that my minimal art skills would make me stick out like a sore thumb. 

The process as an incoming first-year is to rank the Learning Communities by preference. 

I was a little confused by the fact that I also had to rank the Liberal Arts Scholars Program and the Honors College, as I wasn’t even eligible for those groups. 

And most notably, I had no idea where the dorms would be located on campus. They list the corresponding locations of the buildings but wrapped up in all the stress and excitement of choosing housing, I didn’t even consider that. 

When I talked to my friends about it, they said the same thing. There are maps available, but after being shown the Wellness Environment dorm, prospective students often come away from tours with an expectation that every dorm was as central on campus as Central Campus Residence Hall. 

The emphasis when choosing first-year housing is on the interests presented in the Learning Communities, not on location, so it is only natural to choose a dorm that reflects this presentation. 

Despite this, location may play a major part in people’s decision on where to live. It is possible an incoming first-year wants to be close enough to their classes to run out five minutes before, maximizing sleep, or maybe they want to be closer to the large on-campus gym. 

More information about the locations of the various dormitories is important—students should not be ranking Learning Communities based solely on a generalized description. 

Also, CCRH is the only dorm UVM campus tours show. This contributes to the misleading narrative surrounding dorm locations and overall quality—I remember my parents remarking on how nice the dorm looked compared to dorms of other colleges. 

I am a first-year in the Wellness Environment and I would say my experience in the dorms is relatively typical. I like the dorms, but the entire experience is pretty different from what I had expected. 

I expected a cult of “gym-bros” and people obsessed with their health, and the Wellness Environment is definitely not that. It is full of average college students, like any other dorm on campus. 

But to say that the concept and dorms themselves in the Wellness Environment is similar to all the other dorms on campus is stretching the truth. They are newer and more centrally-located than the other dorms. 

Wellness is often propped up as the poster child of dorm life on campus, misrepresenting the quality and location of the entire UVM on-campus population.

There is also a signing of the WE Code upon arriving at UVM, reflecting a degree of commitment that scared me a little bit. The Wellness Environment is the only dorm that has to agree to uphold a certain standard due to the fact that it is an officially substance-free dorm.  

The banner that all the WE students signed upon agreeing to the terms of the dorm gives off elementary school field day energy, with colorful signatures of the students living there. It also has some cult-like undertones, hanging in the lobby for all to see.

With the officiality of the signature, I expected routine commitment in the form of events and lectures. 

The only time my entire Learning Community came together in one large group was during orientation. Since then, it has been simply a place of residence.

There is also a requirement for living in Wellness to take one of two courses—either Healthy Brains Healthy Bodies or Fundamentals of Nutrition. Some majors, like mine, have Fundamentals of Nutrition as a required class anyways. 

Some students, however, must take HBHB to fulfill their requirement. The class attempts to teach practical skills like meditation and balanced college living, but my friend said it felt pointless and, being like a high school health class, the full effort wasn’t worth it. 

Class requirements for the learning communities could be beneficial if the classes were treated as first-year seminars with touches of the specific learning community incorporated. 

This could be a class that brings in different people to speak about topics, like how to run a business for Innovation & Entrepreneurship or UVM’s efforts to be a greener campus for Sustainability. 

The values of our Learning Community didn’t really bring my friends together, and there are so many better ways of meeting people on campus. 

There is no explicit harm in the Learning Communities, but they truly do not add anything to on-campus living at UVM. 

They exist in name only and do not make any difference in bringing together like-minded people. There are so many other ways to make friends with people who share interests, like through the over 200 clubs on campus.

The Learning Communities become even more insignificant when choosing housing for sophomore year. 

The Communities are still assigned to the various dorms on campus but are not ranked by students in order of preference, as was done by students going into their first year on campus. 

If the Learning Communities had more specific interests represented or additional aspects and activities that reflected their names, they would have more significance in UVM’s on-campus life. 

There is not much difference between the Learning Communities themselves, but rather differences in the dorm buildings themselves. 

It would be beneficial to emphasize the location and the differing attributes of each dorm, such as proximity to classes, the gym or the retail locations on campus, to incoming first-years.  

Though the Learning Communities do not cause harm to any of the students, their existence simply does not add anything to campus life. Learning Communities in their current form are not necessary. 

I propose that UVM revamps the current Learning Communities or does away with them completely. 

If there was a way to incorporate more activities or trips that fit the themes of the learning communities, then they would have more of a purpose. 

An example of this would be hikes or ski trips for dorms like Wellness or Outdoor Experience, painting or craft nights for Arts & Creativity or celebration of different holidays in Cultural Crossroads. 

The University could subsequently use these activities and trips as specific information regarding the Learning Communities. This way, future students could be more informed and given a more accurate representation of the communities in which they live. 

Another possibility is to make optional Learning Communities. These could be focused upon intended careers or majors or cultural identity, possibly drawing more diversity to UVM. 

Completely scrapping the Learning Communities could be complemented by filling out a questionnaire similar to that of random roommate assignment. It could ask about living and working habits, placing students with similar living and working styles in the same dorm, similar to pairing roommates. 

Placing people with similar habits and routines would allow for a more peaceful and enjoyable dorm life on campus. 

There’s not any one correct way to approach dorm living at colleges, as everyone has different preferences. But the Learning Communities at UVM should change from what they currently are or be gotten rid of altogether in an effort to create the most pleasant, productive and reflective version of the student body.

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