Living and Learning in Community
Members of an award-winning student organization consider ways to maximize their beneficial impact on society through STEM and advocacy.
Over boba and freshly baked cookies, second-floor residents of Drinkward Residence Hall are engaging in discussions about promoting a more just world. They’ve chosen to be a part of the College’s Living Learning Community (LLC) and to organize and promote social justice programming across campus—on everything from climate change awareness to voting rights and beyond.
“We’re all here because the mission statement called to us in some way,” says Malia Morgan, LLC co-president and a computer science major. “We want to be well-educated people who are prepared to think about our impact on society. Social justice is such a crucial part of that.”
Created in 2014, the LLC provides a close-knit environment in which to consider and discuss important issues and is dedicated to giving Harvey Mudd students a diversity of learning opportunities around many social justice topics. The primary social justice organization on campus, the LLC was named the 2022 Outstanding Student Organization by the Division of Student Affairs for making a positive impact on campus and for demonstrating integrity, leadership and teamwork.
Students apply to the program and, once selected, live together on Drinkward Residence Hall’s second floor and are required to enroll annually in a course with a social justice component. The LLC allows for flexibility in the definition of social justice. Coursework has focused on subjects such as race and ethnicity in Brazil as well as the history of medicine. Classes often consider subject matter through the lenses of science and technology.
Members have friendly, low-stress weekly meetings with ice breakers, personal updates and food and discussions about campus events, or debates about a documentary or news story. LLC members also make presentations to the campus community. Last year, students presented topics as varied as the pitfalls of educational disparities and the legacy of former Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg. This year, they’ll cover accessibility at Mudd and Guam’s current status as a U.S. colony.
One of the LLC’s most popular events is the Queer Prof Panel, which drew 70 students when it debuted in fall 2020. LGBTQ faculty members answered questions and described their paths through life and academia. In another well-attended event, Lelia Hawkins, director of the Hixon Center and Hixon Professor of Climate Studies, spoke on scientific work by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.
On Nov. 8, the midterm election, the LLC sponsored a “watch party,” in conjunction with the Office of Community and Civic Engagement. It’s just one of many partnerships developed with the Division of Student Affairs, affinity groups and student government to widen opportunities for students to become involved in social justice and advocacy. Attendees ate snacks and watched news coverage. Painting supplies were available to provide a “de-stressing activity.” “We really wanted to encourage students—whether they wanted to think about the election or not—to come be in a supportive environment,” Morgan says.
When Becca Blyn joined the LLC in fall 2019, she did so with 10 fellow sophomores, all of whom had attended LLC events as first years. She and co-presidents Yoo-Jin Hwang ’22 and William La ’22 opened LLC membership to first-year students and incorporated mentoring, which allowed them to get to know the incoming students and provide an extra level of support.
The organization is guided by a mission statement that calls on LLC members “to maintain a respectful environment” and “to foster open, passionate and intelligent discussions about social justice issues.” The mission also encourages students to become leaders in challenging these issues, while also supporting individuals on campus who may feel marginalized.
LLC advertises its efforts to students via email, with promises of “good snacks” if they show for events.
“We’ve tried to integrate the LLC into the lives of Mudd students so that it isn’t just another organization on campus but instead serves as a resource and opportunity for students to become involved in whatever social justice issues they find most exciting,” says Blyn, who is pursuing a career in science policy. “Personally, the LLC has allowed me to think beyond the basic science of biology and consider how my STEM knowledge and understanding could allow me to have a larger societal impact.”
For her social justice course requirement, Blyn enrolled in a class called International Political Feature Writing. “It allowed me to write several political journal articles centered around any number of advocacy or social justice topics,” she says. Other students took courses that focused on climate change. “The requirement really allows LLC members to think outside the box when creating their course schedules, and it pushes them to go outside of their major and concentration when choosing electives.”
“We’ve tried to integrate the LLC into the lives of Mudd students so that it isn’t just another organization on campus, but instead serves as a resource and opportunity for students to become involved in whatever social justice issues they find most exciting.”
For first-year members of the LLC, the social justice class requirement is waived. Nonetheless, sophomore Kris Chang enrolled last year in Social Justice and Equity: STEM and Beyond taught by Darryl Yong ’96, professor of mathematics. This year, he’s taking a newly required sophomore “impact” course on climate change. Impact is the operative word.
“I do think that the students who come to our events leave learning something important or having been impacted in some way,” Chang says. “We have a lot of options for people to learn about the world outside the STEM-focused environment that we have here at Mudd.”
LLC member Minnie Kittivorawong ’24 has considered social justice beyond the United States. The Thailand native introduced classmates to the Milk Tea Alliance, an online democracy and human rights movement whose members include internet users from Hong Kong, Taiwan, Thailand and Myanmar. Kittivorawong says, “Being in the LLC makes me view myself as more than just a student, but as someone with a voice who can introduce social justice issues to the whole student body.”