November 9, 2020

Spirit of inclusion drives Loyola campus life and student opportunities in New Orleans

Loyola strives to create a community of inclusion driven by the Jesuit values

At Loyola University New Orleans, the leadership team wants to make sure every student feels they have an equal and strong opportunity to participate in campus life. Whether students commute from down the street or transfer from across the country, Loyola strives to create a community of inclusion driven by the Jesuit values at the core of the university’s mission.

Some Loyola students choose to live at home or with relatives while pursuing their education, often to help save money. To help commuter students feel like they are a part of the Loyola family, the university offers a variety of resources.

“We send a monthly newsletter with programming and resources devoted specifically to commuter students,” said Dale O’Neill, Loyola’s director of student life and ministry. There is also a lounge area called Satchmo’s that serves as a gathering spot for off-campus students, explained O’Neill.

“We have an active Commuter Student Association,” O’Neill said. “They host weekly trivia nights to encourage students to build a community on campus and hold monthly town halls, which gives commuters an outlet to share feedback and ideas. Every semester, they have a Commuter Appreciation Week with programs and giveaways just for our commuter students.”

O’Neill said other amenities include special food discounts on Wednesdays at the Orleans Room and lockers that students can rent if they need to store items while on campus.

“We try to think of all of the details,” O’Neill said. “That’s where our Commuter Assistants make a big impact because they provide a student perspective. Each first-year commuter is assigned a Commuter Assistant who can help them navigate campus life and answer their questions. It’s a great one-on-one resource available to students.”

That attention to detail is a main reason why Loyola senior Freedom Richardson decided to transfer to the university. A few years ago, Richardson attended a lecture on the Loyola campus. He struck up a conversation with the speaker, who encouraged Richardson to look at Loyola and offered to help. At first, Richardson was skeptical, but he had more faith after the speaker followed up with a brunch invitation, a campus tour and a meeting with the provost.

Richardson was further struck by a small gesture. As he arrived on campus for the tour, a bit late, a man held a door open for him for more than a minute.

“I thanked him, and he told me it was no big deal, that it was just the nice thing to do,” Richardson recalled. “It was something small, but it showed me a lot about the people at Loyola. I don’t think the door has closed for me since then. I took my tour and found out that there’s so much more to campus than the church and the 19th century building at the front.”

Since transferring to Loyola, Richardson has thrived. He earned merit-based scholarships to help pay for his education. As a sophomore, he was hired as a resident assistant in on-campus housing. This year, Richardson is the president of the Loyola Student Government Association.

“We have had some issues when it comes to being socially conscious and racially insensitive,” Richardson said. “But I think what makes Loyola unique is that we are aware of our challenges and we are open about them. The administration has gone above and beyond to help students tackle these issues. I don’t think we shy away from those conversations.”

That same spirit of inclusion informs Loyola’s entire campus philosophy. A new vice president of equity and inclusion, Dr. Kedrick Perry, was recently hired and has already begun meeting with students. Perry joins a Loyola campus community in which 54 percent of the students are people of color. Nathan Ament, the university’s chief enrollment officer said, the diversity includes students from Hispanic, African-American, Asian-American and multiethnic backgrounds.

Ament said Loyola’s diversity is also seen in the geographic makeup of its student body. Approximately 62 percent of Loyola students are from out of state, including Florida, Texas, New York, Illinois and others. In addition, Loyola has a strong Puerto Rican presence. This year, 27 students in an incoming class of more than 700 are natives of Puerto Rico.

“Students can walk on campus and see themselves in any student on campus because we are so diverse,” Ament said. “It’s a really interesting mix. I think one of the main reasons is because we offer very generous scholarships and generous financial aid awards. We are typically one of the more generous institutions when it comes to financial aid, so that gives more students an opportunity to come experience our university.”

That experience includes not only academics, but a heavy focus on Jesuit values, social issues and becoming a part of the fabric of New Orleans. Students don’t just learn about social justice on Loyola’s campus—one third of all student organizations have a diversity focus and more than 20 have a service focus, allowing students to get involved in the issues they are passionate about.

“We promote our Jesuit values quite a bit, and we want to engage students in social issues,” Ament said. “A lot of students want to come for this, but we still find that the biggest draw is New Orleans itself. We see that in both local students and students from out of state. They want to go to school in one of the greatest cities in the world.”

Richardson is focused on helping students become even more engaged with the New Orleans community, too. As student government president, he is working with local businesses and grassroots organizations on potential partnerships. Loyola has an active community action program, and students are regularly involved in disaster relief efforts, tutoring, food insecurity, environment justice and more.

“We understand that a lot of the learning in college is done outside of the classroom,” Richardson said. “If you don’t interact with the city and constantly go to the places that make New Orleans uniquely New Orleans, you are doing yourself a disservice. I think Loyola can teach you a lot of things in the classroom, but I think our approach to make sure we expose you to even more is core to the Loyola experience.”