New Life Opportunity Hopes to Boost Safety and Comfort in Residential Spaces

A new life opportunity for students in the Ohio University LINKS program will be available for the fall 2022 semester. LINKS is a support program for incoming multicultural students and runs through the Office for Multicultural Success and Retention, or OMSAR.

The new experience, called LINKS Experiential Living Opportunity, or ELO, lets first-year LINKS students choose whether they want to live on the second floor of Perkins Hall on East Green. LINKS students have received information about the ELO and when access will be available, said assistant director of peer mentoring programs for OMSAR, Alison Moore. Moore also said LINKS students can select these rooms from May 18 through the housing portal.

LINKS ELO began as an idea in 2020. Moore said initial discussions about ELO began with senior LINKS peer mentors at the height of the pandemic. Once LINKS students complete their first year at OU, they can apply to become peer mentors in the program to continue supporting incoming students.

“We were all remote and just talking with them, going over the restructuring of our LINKS program and what they would have liked to have had as a freshman,” Moore said. “And one thing that kept coming up was having a residence or living together in a residence with other multicultural students or students of color would have been really beneficial for them as a way to develop that sense of community.”

Moore was also aware of the various ELOs provided by other university programs. Currently, there is an LGBT ELO for identifying college students, a Substance-Free ELO for students who are committed to living in an alcohol- and drug-free environment, a Female Leadership ELO for female students exclusively, and an ELO called Building up Bobcats for students interested in leadership and community involvement.

Housing and residential living showed Moore different residences that would best suit the LINKS ELO. Perkins has 25 rooms on the second floor, and Moore said they could add the third floor to the ELO if more students plan to join. The residential counselor or multiple counselors will be LINKS students. The ELO also includes an experiential learning room.

“We’ve developed some programs that we can do in residence,” Moore said. “When our students move in, they move into the first move in time, so they will move in Thursday, August 11, between 8 (am) and 11 (am) and our peer mentors will help with Bobcat Crew in motion. Our staff will be there to welcome students and parents.

There will be a gathering in the evening after everyone is settled in with pizza and discussions about the LINKS ELO lineup. Moore said one of the goals is to make everyone feel comfortable in their living environment and after that they will help students find organizations and programs that might be of interest to them.

The opportunity comes as a way for students to find other students with similar backgrounds and build relationships from that. Sallu Timbo, a recent OU graduate and former LINKS student, sees the benefits and possible challenges of LINKS ELO.

“I kind of see where OMSAR and the OU Diversity and Inclusion Committee (are) thinking about what this would do for the university,” Timbo said. “Usually these OMSAR students are first-generation, so having that community, I think, would be nice.”

Timbo also initially thought the ELO would separate LINKS students from the rest of campus. However, he understands that the impact of the pandemic on the university is making it difficult to connect with other students.

“When I was a freshman at OMSAR and LINKS, I had many opportunities to connect with those in the same program,” Timbo said. “I became friends with many of them. And I didn’t even live in the same building as them. This community will always be there and it just needs time to rebuild. I feel like this is a way to make it rebuild faster, but also (it) might slow down the whole rebuilding process. And sort of excluding everyone from other people on campus.

LINKS was previously an opt-out program, according to Reagan Newton, a senior pre-professional bioscience student and peer mentor for the program. Multicultural students were automatically placed in the program and they could choose to leave or stay afterwards. Newton said he initially thought LINKS ELO made sense as a plan because of the racist hate crimes that were committed by students at two residence halls last semester.

“I think having a space that will hopefully be a lot safer is definitely a good thing,” Newton said.

Newton also said it was important to recognize that not all multicultural students have the same experience, which also makes it important that the LINKS ELO is a choice for students in the program.

At the town hall led by black students at OU following the hate crimes, some students demanded that there be residence halls for black students and students of color.

When students live in residence halls for their first and second years, Moore said they most likely want to live in safe and comfortable environments. If the university is a moment to discover one’s passions and one’s lifelong friends, the student’s home cannot discriminate against cultural origins.

“It’s something we hear on campus from other students that they feel that having this affinity housing for multicultural students is really important for them to create a community that leads to a sense of belonging to Ohio University,” Moore said. “And let’s be honest, everyone wants to feel like they belong here, and these students belong here.”

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