Village People

November 18, 1999

Mark Miester

It takes a village. Just ask Amy Koritz. Koritz, associate professor of English and director of the First-Year Experience program, chaired the committee that developed the Urban Village, an ambitious new joint venture between faculty and housing and residence life that aims to integrate academic courses, cocurricular activities and residence hall life.

Beginning next fall, first-year students will have the option of living in a residence hall devoted to the study of urban issues. Urban Village residents will be required to enroll in one of five urban-themed courses open only to villagers. Courses will meet twice a week, and all Urban Village students and faculty will meet weekly as a group.

Special residence hall based events and activities also are planned. Such living-learning communities, the term applied to programs that link students with similar interests in a single residence hall, are a growing trend at colleges and universities across the country and one that Koritz believes is positive. We know that the most important thing for student retention is involvement, Koritz says.

Involvement with the institution, involvement with peers, involvement with faculty, involvement with coursework. Obviously, you want to create structures that foster involvement, and this is one type of structure that seems to do that. The Urban Village concept grew out of the First-Year Experience, a program instituted last year to involve first-year students in university and city life.

In November, Koritz brought together a committee to discuss the possibility of bringing the living-learning community concept to Tulane. The committee included faculty members interested in urban issues including Campus Affiliates Program director Larry Powell, architecture dean Don Gatzke and sociology chair Joel Devine as well as representatives from housing and residence life, student affairs and the student body.

Committee members looked at programs at universities including Duke, Michigan, Northwestern and Miami, all of which have different models based on the living-learning concept. Many of them involve students who have a common interest living together, says Margaret King, assistant vice president for student affairs and a member of the Urban Village planning committee.

Some programs have more than one linked course, some of them have faculty that live in the residence area and some involve peer teaching. "We took all of those elements and created our own model. While programs at other schools have focused on such topics as international affairs or computers in society, Koritz felt urban studies was the best fit for Tulane. It seemed like urban issues had sufficient institutional interest and faculty critical mass to make it happen," she says.

Unlike many other living-learning community programs, the Urban Village has a significant academic component. "One of the things you see happening, at the University of Michigan, for example, is that living-learning communities are primarily driven by the student affairs side," Koritz says. "The curriculum is very loosely affiliated. Were trying to create a tighter affiliation. In fact, we wanted to start from the faculty and from the curriculum, because students are here to get an education. We want every aspect of the university to reflect that mission."

As for the co-curricular side of the programthose non-academic activities designed to enhance urban studies Koritz has nothing planned. Intentionally.

"A community is something you build, not something thats handed to you," she says. "We want the students to be involved in shaping the kind of things that they think are important for their side of the Urban Village. Faculty will participate in that, so its going to be a joint venture in every sense of the word."

The Urban Village will be located in a 99-bed residence hall that is part of the Willow Street Complex, which is now under construction. The program is limited to 95 students. In addition to first-year students, the program also will be open to approximately 30 sophomores. If the program proves to be a hit, other villages may be created. King notes that global-issues communities and language communities are among the most popular programs at other universities.

"I'm really excited about it because were going to have serious cooperation between residence life and housing, the faculty and the students," Koritz says. "We're trying to find a way to pull all the parts of our students educational experience together."

Urban Village Courses: The City as a Work of Art, Don Gatzke, architecture Urban Sociology, Kevin Gotham, sociology City Life: Representations of Urban America, Amy Koritz, English Cinematic Cities: The Represented City in National Imaginaries, Connie Balides, communication Growing Up in the City: Urban Child and Adolescent Development, Barbara Moely, psychology

Tulane University, New Orleans, LA 70118 504-865-5000