Physical environments and their influence on student utilization of public spaces in the Texas Tech University Student Union facility
College and university student unions are multi-million dollar investments that began to emerge on the campuses of institutions in the early 20th century. These investments are not only facilities that provide utility, but they represent an institution’s commitment to community. The concept of the “third place” developed by Ray Oldenburg is used to describe locations that serve as an alternative to a home or work environment where individuals spend most of their social time. Utilizing this concept, this study analyzed participants’ use and behaviors within six public spaces within the Texas Tech University Student Union.These six public spaces were the Gathering Pavilion, Student Union Courtyard, West Basement, Union Plaza Food Court, East Basement, and the Student Organization Cubicle spaces. The research questions that guided the study sought to address to what degree participants utilized the Student Union facility as a third place, whether or not there were relationships between the physical characteristics of a public space and the types of behaviors participants demonstrated there, and whether or not the way the facility was currently utilized aligned with the intentions of the facility renovations of the six public spaces in 2006. A researcher-developed survey was used for data collection. Descriptive statistics were used to address the research questions. The results of the analysis indicated that student participants believed that the Texas Tech University Student Union contains the qualities that make it an environment suitable to serve as a third place. The results also revealed that it serves as a third place for many of the participants of the study. Participants indicated they utilized three of the public spaces, the West Basement, Union Plaza Food Court, and the Student Organization Cubicle spaces, in ways that mirrored their intended purposes. Three spaces, the Student Union Courtyard, Gathering Pavilion, and East Basement, were not utilized in a manner congruent with the intentions of the renovations. There is limited comparative research on student union facility design and actual student use. College administrators and those that operate student unions can benefit from the results of this research study. The results contribute to the literature on the design and intentions of college and university student union facilities.