Academic journal article Planning for Higher Education

How Can Residence Hall Spaces Facilitate Student Belonging?: Examining Students' Experiences to Inform Campus Planning and Programs

Academic journal article Planning for Higher Education

How Can Residence Hall Spaces Facilitate Student Belonging?: Examining Students' Experiences to Inform Campus Planning and Programs

Article excerpt


ALTHOUGH BELONGING is understood to be a key factor in college student success (Allen et al. 2008; Berger 1997; Bollen and Hoyle 1990; Braxton, Milem, and Sullivan 2000; Hoffman et al. 2002; Strayhorn 2012; Tinto 1994), little is known about the role of campus space in the development of student belonging. It is crucial that institutions of higher education consider how their campuses may or may not be welcoming and inclusive of all students. This study focuses on how campus space, particularly the residence hall, may foster or hinder students' interactions and, subsequently, their belonging. Particular emphasis is placed on students' experiences and perspectives, as insights gained from residents play a critical role in the development of effective campus spaces (Doshi, Kumar, and Whitmer 2014).

Research on college student development has found that students are more likely to succeed if they feel that they belong. Studies have identified strong correlations between students' sense of belonging and their engagement, academic achievement, persistence, mental health, and overall well-being (e.g., Astin 1993; Bowman 2010; Hausmann, Schofield, and Woods 2007; Hurtado and Carter 1997; Johnson et al. 2007). In addition to the extensive research on the importance of belonging, there is a sizable body of research that focuses on the factors that influence student belonging (e.g., Hurtado and Carter 1997; Kuh et al. 2006; Lee and Davis 2000; Locks et al. 2008). For example, in their examination of second-year students' sense of belonging, Locks et al. (2008) found that positive interactions with diverse peers resulted in a greater sense of students' belonging to their campus community. These findings have been supported by the work of a number of other scholars who also have found that positive interactions among diverse peers tend to lead to a greater sense of belonging for students (Hurtado and Carter 1997; Lee and Davis 2000). Institutional conditions, such as resources, educational policies, structural features, and programs and practices, also have been found to significantly influence student belonging (Kuh et al. 2006).

One type of college space that has been found to significantly affect students' experiences is the residence hall. Research has found that the residence hall climate strongly correlates with the development of relationships, community, and belonging (Berger 1997; Bowman 2010; Johnson et al. 2007; Kaya 2004; Pascarella 1984; Pascarella, Terenzini, and Blimling 1994; Strayhorn 2008). In an analysis of data on first-year students from the 2004 National Study of Living-Learning Programs, Johnson et al. (2007) found that students' perceptions of the residence hall climate were consistently connected to their sense of belonging. These researchers suggest that to foster student belonging, it is important for residence halls to be inclusive of diverse backgrounds and provide strong social supports. Similarly, Berger (1997) found that the residence hall was a key space in which students developed a sense of community. Moreover, the extent to which students who live in residence halls become socially integrated also serves as an indicator of student persistence. The few studies that have examined the development of student belonging in residence halls have recommended that further research be conducted on students' experience in the halls, particularly as it relates to their belonging.

Building on the research that demonstrates the importance of belonging for college student success, this study examines the relationship between residence hall spaces and the development of student belonging. Unlike many of the preceding studies on college student belonging, this study prioritized space as an explicit dimension of analysis.


This article presents several key findings from an ongoing qualitative study. The longitudinal study is guided by the following research questions:

* What role does space play in the development of belonging for undergraduate college students in the residence halls? …

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