By Alex Domine ’12
Pacific Lutheran University’s all female hall, Harstad, is implementing a community theme that focuses on social justice and women’s advocacy.
“We want to create a safe, supportive and diverse environment for educating and nurturing residents,” says Katherine Knutsen Residence Director for Harstad Hall, “The main focus is really on gender equity through intentional program, community building and faculty interactions.”
Harstad is recognized around campus as the only single gendered hall. It is the third hall to implement a living and learning community. Others include Hong international hall and Hinderlie hall for creative expression.
“We [Harstad] will be specifically focusing on activism and leadership opportunities for the women of the building to recognize what it means to be a woman.” Says Knutsen.
“We just want to make it a comfortable place for all women to live, where they feel like they are safe and comfortable and feel like they have their own environment” says Shayla Donelly, Resident Assistant for Harstad hall.
The pilot stage of the Harstad living learning community includes motions such as the addition of a new Residence Hall Council member called the Women’s Empowerment Director.
“We’ve created a women’s empowerment director on the RHC because were going to have events that shows what gender equity looks like.” says Donnelly.
“One of the things I did to make sure that momentum was gained was when we were picking out our staffs for the year, I really looked for women who believed in gender equity and women’s rights,” explains Knutsen, “the women on my staff this year are incredibly strong and have a drive and motivation to accomplish things.”
“They have already taken this on and taken ownership of it,” adds Knutsen, “they are a lot of the reason it’s going to be so successful”
This is Knutsen’s second year as a Resident Director.
“When I first came to PLU, I was really excited to be in an all female hall,” says Knutsen, “I had been living with a sorority for 2 years and I wanted to make sure that the sense of pride that comes with being a woman in a sorority was also present in an all female residence hall.”
The living learning community is an old model that PLU is adopting. Last year, PLU implemented a system of housing that separated first year students from returning students for community building purposes. Furthermore, this year is Hinderlie’s first year as a creative expression community.
“Across the nation, living learning communities have popped up all over the country. Some of them are based on specific majors or interests. Some universities will do them by wing or by floor, and some will base it on class.” explains Knutsen
PLU now has three living learning communities in a collection of ten halls. In addition to these themed halls, there is a Student Action and Leadership wing in Stuen Hall as well as the campus wide system that separates first year students from returning students.
“If PLU would ever want to go to all living learning communities, it would be in such a way where everyone would have a place to go and feel safe and welcomed.” says Knutsen.
“Part of inclusivity is that people have a community that they know they can go to. While it may seem inclusive, it doesn’t mean that people aren’t welcome in that community,” adds Knutsen. “It will allow people to feel like that community is theirs and connects with who they are and that is a big factor to inclusivity.”
The Hong and Hinderlie living learning communities include an application, which residents must fill out in order to be housed there.
“We want to welcome women of all shapes, sizes, age, color, ethnicity. We have to accommodate our female residents,” says Knutsen, “I don’t foresee it being an application process anytime soon.”