Alma College is working to provide students living on campus with a supportive community through its new Julius Chatman Living Learning Community (LLC), which opened this past fall.
The LLC provides first-year students of color and their allies the opportunity to live together, create connections and develop their leadership skills — supporting them along the path toward graduation.
“Something we hear a lot from students is that they want a safe space, where they can be themselves and connect with other students who share similar experiences and backgrounds as they have. The Chatman LLC will help students on our campus who are most vulnerable to dropping out find the community they need when times are hard, so that they can grow and be successful inside and outside the classroom here at Alma College,” said Damon Brown, vice president of student affairs and chief diversity officer.
LLCs are a relatively new concept at colleges and universities. They allow for students with common academic, cultural, or social interests to live together in on-campus housing and receive various supports guided by their goals. There are several examples of LLCs at colleges and universities around the United States, based on ideas such as environmentally sustainable living, interfaith spirituality, entrepreneurship and second languages. Alma also offers LLCs for transfer students and those involved in local service.
The Chatman LLC is a complement to Alma’s Campbell Scholars program, which provides students of color with social, academic and cultural resources to successfully move through the college system and graduate. According to Donnesha Blake, Alma’s director of diversity and inclusion, first-year students in the Chatman LLC will start the year with a set curriculum based on “heavy engagement” with every area of campus life, including resources to benefit their academic, social, financial, physical and mental well-being.
Students transition into doing campus outreach projects and volunteer activities, Blake continued, before finally reflecting on who they are and what they mean to Alma College.
“It’s important that students are considered valuable because of who they are fundamentally and for what they can bring — not because we can mold them to meet our expectations. What the LLC ultimately does is give students the ability to articulate their needs, so that we can provide accommodation and help them succeed,” Blake said.
The LLC, which is located in one wing of Alma’s Gelston Hall, currently houses 19 students, but could grow to add more in the future, Blake said.
Lauryn Bishop, a junior student from Detroit, Mich., serves as a resident advisor in the LLC. Bishop said that had it been available to her as a first-year student, she would have jumped at the opportunity to participate.
“Coming to Alma, I was nervous about making friends. I loved that Campbell Scholars was a program I could be involved with in my first year, but living with people going through the same experience would have made me feel more at home. I’m glad these students will have such a great opportunity, and I’m looking forward to being their RA,” Bishop said.
The LLC is named after Julius Chatman, who attended Alma from 1924-27 and is considered the first Black student in the history of the college. He was a star athlete for the Scots’ football and track programs, but faced hardships in the classroom that ultimately caused him to leave college without receiving a degree.
After Chatman left Alma, he married and started a family. Chatman died in 1983 having raised four children: Thomas, Theodore, Julia and Frances, with his wife, the late Grace Farmer. All four children have gone on to achieve college degrees and have had successful careers in their chosen fields.
Julia Chatman Price, who has retired from a corporate management position and now lives in Grand Blanc, Michigan, said her father ultimately went on to work for a dry-cleaning business in St. Louis, Michigan, punctually opening the business very early in the morning and closing it at night. Price recalled her father walking to work every morning and usually bringing one of the children with him, in order for them to talk to each other.
Julius Chatman’s educational pursuits went toward his goal of becoming a doctor, Price said. While his goal did not come to fruition, he instilled the value of seeking a higher education onto his children, grandchildren and other relatives. In 2001, his granddaughter, Courtenay Poucher, fulfilled Chatman’s dream and became a physician, currently working in the Los Angeles, California area.
At the commencement ceremony for the Class of 2021, Chatman was posthumously awarded his degree, which was accepted by his daughter. Price said she and her family are “elated” by the formation of the LLC, believing that students there will receive benefits that her father did not.
“My father passed along the values of education, hard work and spirituality to his children, grandchildren and others. He always kept a positive attitude. To know that the Alma College students of today — and others in generations to come — will see his name and understand why he did that is a legacy that we’re all extremely proud of,” Price said.
A dedication ceremony took place Sept. 18 in the Tyler-Van Dusen Campus Center. Price said many family members made the trip into town from Michigan, California, Arizona, Texas and Florida for the event.