Building community through physical space
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The purpose of this doctoral study was to develop an understanding of how and if college unions can create community for transfer students from a community college during their tenure at their transfer, four-year institution. The researcher examined the specific observations and reflections of these students to gain an understanding of their experience with community, especially since they were seeking to create that sense of belonging with their new institution. In addition, this study analyzed the physical layouts and aesthetics of the facility to see if there were common attributes that are similar for community building. The qualitative research study used semi-structured interviews and a visual ethnography technique to examine pictures and reflections on current physical space within a college union. More specifically, the study was a participatory action research (PAR) project or “self-reflective inquiry undertaken by participants in social relationship with one another in or order to improve some condition or situation with which they are involved” (Berg, 2007, p. 223). The interviews were coded to find common themes and the data was used to determine how the college union designed and arranged for physical space to create community. Additionally, the photographs provide a visual representation and catalyst for directed discussion and reflection on these distinct spaces. The analysis of the pictures and interviews were presented in two distinct parts: 1) the pictures, and subsequent comments on those picture, from the student perspective of community within the college union, and 2) relevant reflection and discussion about concepts related to the physical environment and human interaction within those spaces. Each section utilized visual ethnography, data interpretation, and dialogue from individual participants to present the findings of this study (Berg, 2007). The 11 participants discussed several factors that were ideal in the development of physical space to make it ideal for community building. The factors mentioned included characteristics of home and work; the physical layout of the space related to architecture and aesthetics; the activities and events taking place within those areas; the ability to observe those activities, without actual participation; the convenience or access of resources and support functions; the overall campus climate, dictated by years of cultural formation; and the significance of history and representation of that history throughout the facility. All 11 participants confirmed that physical spaces, especially within the college union, were instrumental in the formation of community on a college or university campus. Additionally, all students indicated that while conditions were not ideal for community, they were able to transform these areas to make them useful for social interaction and other shared experiences.