This academic year, the LINKS program at Ohio University implemented an experiential living opportunity, or ELO, where students in the LINKS program can live together in the same residence hall, according to the LINKS website. This year, the ELO is in Perkins Hall.
The LINKS program supports students of color through their first year at OU.
"They have students on the second floor of Perkins, which is where the ELO is being located," Hannah Davis, a graduate student and resident director for the LINKS ELO, said. "That really helps them build community with each other, helps to give them that safe space for networking with others that are like them."
Former students of the LINKS program and others suggested the idea of ELO after incidents of racial discrimination occurred in residence halls last year.
"Students really were interested in the opportunity to have that affinity housing for students of color to live together," Alison Moore, the assistant director of the peer mentor programs for the Multicultural Support and Retention Services, said. "And then obviously there were some circumstances that happened last year in the residence halls, and out of that there was a student town hall meeting where the students again expressed their interest in having a safe space where they could live together in the residence halls and support one another."
The ELO aims to help students of color adjust to college life with support and comfort.
"They can have a space to feel welcomed, more comfortable and just hopefully, their adjustments to college would be a little bit easier," Jada Hopps, a sophomore and one of the resident advisors for the ELO, said.
Hopps did not have the opportunity to live in the ELO as a freshman, but she said she could see its impact on the residents.
"I see all the residents are all so close, and I always say I wish I had that my freshman year," Hopps said.
Hopps is a member of the LINKS program, where she now serves as a mentor. Having a member of the LINKS program be a leader in the ELO is an important part of the program.
"There are people in leadership positions in housing in that space, who those students can identify with because they have had many of the same lived experiences as the students in the LINKS ELO," Moore said. "There are also people there on campus that are there to really support those students."
The ELO includes programming in the residence hall to strengthen the community and connections.
"This year, this is my first year here at Ohio, is trying to provide some more programming efforts for the LINKS ELO," Davis said. "I definitely want to have more programming efforts … to help facilitate community partnering with different organizations, whether it's the (Diversity & Inclusion) Office, the Multicultural Center or any of the different multicultural-based student organizations on campus."
For next year, changes are being made, including a different residence hall.
"(Gamertsfelder) is currently being renovated with upgraded bathrooms, windows and air conditioning, and they've updated the lobby, but the cost to students won't be won't be any higher," Moore said. "We've identified that as our space for next year."
Moore is also looking to increase the number of students in the program.
"(We are) working with admissions and housing to kind of get the word out about the opportunity and to better identify students who would be interested in participating and opening that opportunity up to them," Moore said.
After one semester, the ELO helped students of color adjust to college while also giving them resources to get involved on campus and create lasting connections, according to Davis and Hopps.
"I see them sometimes walking around grabbing lunch together, stuff like that and it makes me happy to see they're bonding," Davis said. "They're grasping any sort of opportunity to meet other people whether they're alike or even different. That shows that the ELO is working."