Living and Learning in Community: HOPE Hall at Trinity University

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The Office of University Communications
pr@trinity.edu
(210) 999-8406
Aug. 29, 2012

Living and Learning in Community: HOPE Hall at Trinity University


Student's dream of a service learning residence hall becomes a reality


By Miriam Sitz'10

 SAN ANTONIO - As a first-year student at Trinity University, Katie Ogawa walked past Murchison Residence Hall and remarked to a friend, "How cool would it be if this were a service hall?" By the end of Ogawa's second semester, that seed of an idea had already taken root and would grow over the next two semesters into what is now known as HOPE Hall.Hope Hall group photo

HOPE Hall is a living and learning community of 35 passionate students united by the mission to serve individuals in San Antonio experiencing homelessness. The hall's name, an acronym for Homelessness Outreach Pursuing Education, reflects the residents' intentions to study and volunteer while living together in Murchison. Ogawa, a junior biology major from Albuquerque, N.M., serves as the inaugural director and Residential Life staff member for the hall.

Immediately prior to the start of New Student Orientation and her first year at Trinity, Ogawa participated in The Plunge, a faith-based week of service for incoming first-year students. She came away from that experience with a group of friends, a passion for the issue of homelessness, and a deeper understanding of the power of community. "We saw the value of living together and being together all the time while also serving, and how that built strong relationships."

After two semesters of volunteering at Haven for Hope, Ogawa approached David Tuttle, associate vice president of Student Affairs and dean of Students, to discuss the possibility of a service-focused residence hall. Throughout her sophomore year, she collaborated with Tuttle, likeminded peers, Residential Life, area organizations, and University faculty to lay the groundwork for the community. As a result, HOPE Hall, a pioneer in mixed-age housing at Trinity, is now home to 11 first-years and 24 sophomores and juniors.

Although Trinity's Residential Life program is known for housing first-years and sophomores with their respective class years, Tuttle said he is a proponent of targeted mixed communities because the common theme provides students from all classes with a reason to mix. Such a model allows older students to take on leadership and mentor roles, which are bolstered by academic component. "It just seems like such a rich environment for learning," Tuttle said, adding that HOPE Hall could serve as an "excellent model for other academic/experiential/residential collaborations in the future."  

Service is a key element of the initiative and residents will actively engage with groups in San Antonio that confront homelessness head on. Students will concentrate their volunteerism on five specific issues: shelter, health, hunger, education, and public policy. Each student will choose an organization from a list of community partners assembled by Ogawa and Tuttle, and groups of two to three students will visit and volunteer every week.

The academic component of this living and learning community will center on a first year seminar co-taught by Edwin Blanton, coordinator for Community Service and Engagement in Trinity's office of Campus & Community Involvement, and Robert Blystone, professor of biology. First-year HOPE Hall students will take the class in the spring, with upperclassmen from the hall serving as peer tutors. The seminar will feature weekly guest speakers with various perspectives on homelessness. "That could be a non-profit professional, a social worker, or someone with the police department," Blanton explained. "It could also be someone from our faculty who has experience studying homelessness."

Blanton and Blystone also plan to examine thematically relevant literature and film, and students will engage in a number of writing assignments, as is the case in all first year seminars. Blanton noted another unique characteristic of the class: "The course itself is going to be homeless. Every week it will meet in a different location on campus."

This groundbreaking collaboration between students and University administration will no doubt evolve and grow beyond the 2012-2013 academic year. "It speaks volumes of Trinity that we were able to pull this off," Ogawa reflected. "I think it's really cool to see this happening, and going forward hopefully it will be sustainable."

Miriam Sitz graduated from Trinity University in 2010 with a bachelor's degree in Spanish and environmental studies. She works at Accion Texas Inc., the nation's largest non-profit microlender, and is a San Antonio-based freelancer who writes a restaurant and culture blog, Miriam210.com.