Collins Living Learning Center has been a flagship dorm on IU’s campus since 1972. A Living Learning Center (LLC) within the College of Arts and Sciences, Collins is home to an eclectic community of residents who prize creativity, diversity, green innovation, and social justice. Lara Kriegel, associate professor in the Departments of History and English, began her new role as director of Collins LLC last July, and welcomed her newest cohort of “Collinsites” last Fall in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. Professor Kriegel is guiding Collins during one of the most challenging periods since its founding, and yet, she says, community spirit is as strong as ever.
Lara Kriegel Interview
Q: What is exciting to you about being director of Collins?
The thing that’s honestly the most exciting—well, two things: the amazing commitment of the staff, the core staff that have worked here for many, many years, and also the amazing commitments of the students. They have made a lot of sacrifices, some of them, to keep the community running this year. There are students who weren’t able to come to campus who are still involved. We even have students in places like India who are remaining active, Zooming into meetings and doing everything they can to steer the community. And we have students who are thinking really creatively about different ways to move the community forward during this time. So, they’re just really a terrific group of people. Collins is very much associated with the buildings that comprise the residential center, but it really is something that exceeds those buildings and expands beyond it.
Collins is more than a set of buildings; it’s a community.Lara Kriegel
Q: In light of the pandemic, what does Collins look like residentially and program-wise this year?
A lot of our regular meetings have moved onto Zoom, and those meetings still have the same boisterous spirit and sense of humor and resourcefulness and grit that you would associate with Collins students at other times. I was in a meeting on Sunday for the Board of Educational Programming, and I was really impressed with the students’ initiative, energy, and optimism even right now, and there are also other things that are happening online. During welcome week, we had a book discussion online; they had some crafting sessions and trivia nights online. Our signature events, including the Dickens Dinner, the Viennese Ball, and the Soup Bowl moved online, too. One thing that’s a challenge is that these things are sustaining for people, but they’re not a substitute for some of the face-to-face interactions. Parents especially really have heard a lot about the Collins spirit and they want their first-year students to be able to have a taste of that.
I do see people sitting out in the commons in front of Collins and having socially distanced gatherings. Some of the Q Classes, a trademark class for Collins first-years, are meeting in person, although we do have some online options. The arts spaces are still running with socially distanced specifications. And our seminars are still running, some of them in person and some online. So there are elements that are the same, but Collins is not filled with bodies and people grouped together. One thing I remember fondly is my interview, held just before the pandemic. I went in on a Sunday and had pizza with a lot of students who were crowded into the Edmonson Formal Lounge. It was very cozy, and the students were really challenging. They asked me some incredibly hard questions—they weren’t afraid at all to press me. So, I’m a bit nostalgic right now when I go into the Edmonson Formal Lounge and think of the way in which we were all together there, and the way that can’t quite happen now.
Q: You recently learned that Collins’ historic home on Woodlawn Avenue will be temporarily closed for a long-anticipated renovation during the 2021-22 academic year. What will this mean in practical terms for students planning on living in Collins next year, and how will you sustain the community’s identity and spirit during the renovation?
As I’ve said, Collins is more than a set of buildings; it’s a community. This year has made me confident about the resilience of the community. We’ve shown ourselves to be resourceful. Additionally, our temporary space in Foster-Shea, on the northwest side of campus, is a good one for a home away from home. It’s attractive and spacious, while also intimate. I’m grateful to our RPS partners for helping us out in this process. Additionally, our students always come through and they are thinking about how to sustain Collins self-government and Collins traditions through 2021-22.
Q: Do you have any goals as you come into this role?
Well, definitely. The most immediate goal has been to steer us through this moment and to keep the community cohesive in the midst of the challenges and difficulties posed by the pandemic and then the move. Beyond that, I’m really interested in tying the community to the mission of the College of Arts and Sciences, and I want to really tie it more to the College’s commitment to diversity. Collins is a wonderfully open place when it comes to sexual and gender diversity, but there’s more we can do to interface with the culture centers that are in our neighborhood and to include various populations at IU in the making of Collins. We need to think about how to do that. Finally, we are focused on growing our membership in general. There are a lot of wonderful LLCs on campus, and we want to support them all while also nurturing Collins, which was the original LLC on campus. We are working with the College to reach out to Direct Admits, and our students, as always, have great ideas about outreach, too.
A lot of our regular meetings have moved onto Zoom, and those meetings still have the same boisterous spirit and sense of humor and resourcefulness and grit that you would associate with Collins students at other times.Lara Kriegel
Q: Is there anything you want to add about Collins or its students?
I think I’ve said most of it…they are an absolutely amazing bunch—creative, idealistic, but also down-to-earth and kind of fearless in their ways. They care about the community and they want to steer it into the future. In the fall, I was really touched that students who were off campus and students who were living overseas in very different time zones wanted to participate. This was especially remarkable with first-year students who did not opt to come to campus in the fall. It’s been great to absorb some of these students this semester – and to see the ways that so many of the first-years have joined in as participants and as leaders, despite the challenges. This semester, I’ve been impressed by how the students themselves are sustaining Collins through care for our spaces, for our budget, and for our membership. They’ve shown great leadership in making financial decisions and in working on outreach during this transition period, which included the pandemic and now a renovation. They are giving their best to Collins and I really want them to have the best years that they can at IU.