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SLU’s Cross Cultural Center Recruits Billikens for THRIVE Learning Community

by Bridjes O'Neil
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Bridjes O'Neil
Communications Specialist

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Incoming freshman looking for mentorship, connection through shared experience, and a celebration of Black diasporic identities, will find support and comradery through Saint Louis University’s THRIVE: Black and Talented Learning Community. This year, the learning community is expanding to allow students who live together in the same residence hall to be joined by students who live in other locations. 

“Being Black is a different experience others might not understand,” said Collin Croft, a second-year student at SLU who is majoring in computer science with a minor in African American Studies. “I didn’t want to come here and feel alone.” 


SLU's THRIVE: Black and Talented Learning Community graduates. SLU file photo.

Croft, who attended a predominately white private high school, found that transitioning to SLU as a first-generation college student wasn’t easy.  In high school, he felt isolated and wanted to be a part of a community at SLU. THRIVE is like an extended “family” for students entering the University from similar backgrounds, he said. Briana Lawson, learning community academic coordinator in SLU's Department of Housing and Residence Life, is more than a mentor — she’s like a sister who Croft said kept his head above water when he felt as if he was “drowning." 

“When you get here as a first-year student, you’re 'drowning' because you’re unsure of the next steps,” Croft said. “Bri checked on me to see how I was doing academically and mentally. She took away that uncertainty.”

THRIVE is one of nine on-campus learning communities and is open to students of all majors. This year, THRIVE is housed in Walsh Hall and led by Christopher M. Tinson, Ph.D., department chair of SLU’s African American Studies program. Richard Marks Jr., Ed.D., director of the Cross Cultural Center, teamed up with THRIVE to assist with recruitment efforts and encourages interested students to apply by contacting Lawson.

Students in learning communities take classes that are centered around a particular major, aspect of social identity and experience, or academic interest. Marks will instruct the associated University 101: Enhancing First-Year Success course.

“The U101 course that’s paired with THRIVE is taught through the lens of being Black at a predominantly white institution supplemented with the tools to navigate those barriers,” Marks said. 

Through the course, students will connect with faculty and staff of color — specifically Black faculty and staff — for support as they matriculate through SLU, Marks added. Students will also be paired with professional and peer-to-peer mentors like Croft.

On Thursday, August 19, and Friday, August 20, SLU will welcome the University’s newest Billikens to campus. As he prepares to step into his new role as a peer-to-peer mentor, Croft thinks back to his first days on campus. He offers the following advice, “Work before play. Hold yourself accountable. Devote time to mental health. Stay busy. Keep learning and do your best!” 

SLU’s learning communities are Diversity and Global Citizenship, Engineering and Innovation, Ethical Leaders in Business, Health Sciences, Honors, Leadership for Social Change, Life Sciences, Micah: Living the Mission, and THRIVE: Black and Talented. Learning communities offer opportunities to explore St. Louis, campus life, careers, and University resources. Students can also participate in community service projects, tutoring, and leadership development.  

Learning Community Orientation will be held on Friday, August 20, from 2:30 to 4 p.m., at the Busch Student Center Wool Ballroom. Orientation is intended for all learning community students to meet staff, learn about the program and requirements, and get to know their peer mentors. 

For more information, contact Learning Community Academic Coordinator Briana Lawson at 314-977-6388 or email

About Saint Louis University

Founded in 1818, Saint Louis University is one of the nation’s oldest and most prestigious Catholic institutions. Rooted in Jesuit values and its pioneering history as the first university west of the Mississippi River, SLU offers more than 12,000 students a rigorous, transformative education of the whole person. At the core of the University’s diverse community of scholars is SLU’s service-focused mission, which challenges and prepares students to make the world a better, more just place.