Bryant’s Women’s Leadership Living and Learning Community (WLLC) enhances the collegiate experience of women-identifying students and supports their personal and professional success. By strengthening the links between academic work, activism and community, the WLLC empowers future campus leaders who take the lessons they’ve learned to heart.
The program also helps to forge unbreakable bonds of support that aid young women in finding their footing and preparing to do great things. “When I first came to Bryant, I was a little bit nervous to live on campus,” notes Mackenzie Stapleton ’23, a member of the WLLC’s initial cohort. “The WLLC was a great opportunity to get into a group right off the bat and have supportive people all around you.”
The WLLC, open to all women-identifying first year students, brings together support from the entire campus community for an important purpose. “Living and learning communities, historically, help students transition to college life,” notes Professor of English and Cultural Studies and Associate Dean of Bryant's College of Arts and Sciences Theresa Hasseler, Ph.D., a coordinator for the WLLC. “Students who participate in LLCs typically have smoother transitions, develop closer relationships with faculty and form friendships earlier.”
“One of the biggest ideas we try to instill in our Women’s LLC students is that they are not alone in this: They have other people who can support them and there are people they can support.”
It also gives the students a foundation for personal growth and for making a difference. “We know that our women leaders on campus are phenomenal, even though women are a smaller percentage of the overall campus population,” says Kelly Boutin, Director of Bryant's Hochberg Women’s Center and Pride Center, as well as a WLLC Coordinator. “We know that they have the skills, they have the drive and they have what it takes to be successful. What we're offering them is a safe space where they don't have to prove themselves and they can look at leadership from different perspectives."
“One of the biggest ideas we try to instill in our Women’s LLC students is that they are not alone in this: They have other people who can support them and there are people they can support,” Hasseler states.
The Women’s Leadership LLC students all live together on the same floor in Bryant’s Bristol House Residence Hall. An LLC Lounge, accessible only to students in the program, provides a great place for them to study, hang out and share ideas. “The design of the community is important, not just programmatically, but environmentally as well,” explains Women’s LLC coordinator Jana Valentine, Assistant Dean of Residential Life and Community Standards. “It gives students a comfortable space that feels like home–and sometimes building a community is as simple as the conversations that you have next to someone when you're brushing your teeth at night.”
“It gives you a sense of community right away. You have a group that you can always turn to when you're down, or have questions, or even just when you want to knock on their door and say, ‘Hey, let's go to dinner together.'"
Group events ranging from fun activities such as visits to Providence’s WaterFire celebrations to panels on leadership development help the members of the cohort bond with one another. “The events themselves were really fun and interesting, but then when we came back to campus, we were able to look back on those events together and see how our perspectives differed and what each person took away from the same experiences,” remembers Stapleton.
“It gives you a sense of community right away,” she adds. “You had a group that you can always turn to when you're down, or have questions, or even just when you want to knock on their door and say, ‘Hey, let's go to dinner together.’”
Those relationships provide a unique source of strength for the students. “I think one of the best parts of the WLLC is the friends you make,” says Anxhela Elezaj ’23, another member of the Women’s Leadership LLC’s initial cohort who is still involved with the program. “I truly believe I’ve made lifelong friendships through the Living Learning Community.”
That sense of fellowship extends to the program’s organizers. “They create such a warm, welcoming space for you to really express yourself,” says Stapleton. “You just know you could go to them with literally any problem in life and that they would be able to help you.”
“I think it's really important that students discover that learning does not just happen in a classroom. It translates to their living experiences, to the activities that they're a part of and to the work that they hope to do in the world.”
Together, the students in the cohort take key courses in Bryant’s first year curriculum, including Global Foundations of Character and Leadership (GFCL), in which they explore ethical forms of leadership and engage with real world problems through creative problem-solving and, for this spring, “Introduction to Cultural Studies,” where they learn to focus on specific communities and cultures to learn more about the world. Thereafter, students are offered a range of Business and Arts & Sciences courses to choose from to build a foundation of knowledge on women, leadership, and community.
By taking classes together, the WLLC cohort forms a close-knit community of scholars. “I think it's really important that students discover that learning does not just happen in a classroom. It translates to their living experiences, to the activities that they're a part of and to the work that they hope to do in the world,” says Hasseler.
“One of my favorite things about the WLLC is watching the women grow through the process, seeing them come into the class and the experience a little unsure, perhaps a little hesitant, and then watching them come out of that and into their own.”
“We'd have classes or meetings for our group projects and it was so much easier because we had the common room and we could talk about what happened in class,” says Elezaj. “And then we could talk in class about the experiences we had together."
Stapleton agrees. “Taking courses together with people you know from living together gives you the opportunity to have more open conversations that are a little bit deeper than you would have with just a bunch of random people,” she says.
Through the Women’s LLC programing, including cocurricular events such as forums and visits to community groups, students don’t just pick up useful skills and knowledge, they develop a long-term commitment to social justice and ethical civic engagement. By exploring their role as emerging leaders, they form their own personal leadership philosophies, which prepares them to lead with integrity and empathy.
Both Elezaj and Stapleton say that one of their favorite WLLC projects, a part of their GFCL coursework, was the creation of The Women Leading box, a curated collection of products, that allowed them to work with women-owned businesses, align with organizations that impact women, and support sustainability.
“Being in the WLLC is a safe environment that helps you build confidence that you take to your other classes and activities and, when you graduate from college, you can take it to the workplace.”
“We learned all about how to start a business and we learned how to work together as a group,” says Elezaj. “We worked all freshman year, with different groups working on everything from supply chain to how it looked to pricing for the box. When we were done and the boxes were delivered, it was like sending our child into the world,” she says with a laugh.
"It was a pretty good feeling at the end," says Elezaj. "We could say, 'Wow, this is our work.'"
By the end of their first year, the Women’s Leadership LLC students have gained invaluable experience, insight, and a desire to do more. “Being able to connect with one another both inside and outside of the classroom in this community helps the students build confidence that may have taken them a little bit longer to build over time,” notes Valentine.
“One of my favorite things about the WLLC is watching the women grow through the process, seeing them come into the class and the experience a little unsure, perhaps a little hesitant, and then watching them come out of that and into their own,” says Hasseler.
“In the world we live in, women are often seen as less, that they can do less. We have to prove to the world that we are actually the same, and we can do great things the same way men can."
Spending her first year in the WLLC was transformative, says Stapleton. “The WLLC helped me grow as a student in general and helped me to not be afraid to step out of my comfort zone and to share my ideas,” she states. She’s now the Resident Assistant for the Women’s Leadership LLC and serves as mentor for the new students. “Being in the WLLC is a safe environment that helps you build confidence that you take to your other classes and activities and, when you graduate from college, you can take it to the workplace.”
Into the future
The success of the WLLC, says Boutin, can be seen in the success of its students. "When we look back at our first cohort, who are now juniors, it's really neat to see the different directions they've gone. They’ve taken on leadership roles in student government, or as Resident Assistants or in Greek life or in other areas,” she states. “They’ve had the opportunity to network and learn from different people on campus and beyond, and now they’re doing some mentoring of their own.”
For Elezaj, the WLLC serves an important purpose in an important time. “In the world we live in, women are often seen as less, that they can do less,” she says. “We have to prove to the world that we are actually the same, and we can do great things the same way men can. And I think that this is now more important than ever.”