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Campus Life Spotlight: Campus Environments

Posted on Jan 17, 2012

 Campus Life Spotlight: Making Interaction Intentional in the Campus Environment

This week, all of campus will be buzzing with planning, development, and excitement for the new semester.  Today, faculty and staff came together for the All Campus Opening meeting, and tomorrow we have an exciting lineup of Enhancement Day sessions.  As we move forward into the new semester, not only is it important to think about syllabi, new students, and semester projects, but it is also important to think about how we intentional create welcoming campus environments for our students.

So, what is campus environments?  No, we are not talking about ecological or environmental movements on campus.  Rather, we are talking about how people interact with the environment in which they exist, and the educational outcomes from that interaction.  There are three main theorists that conducted student development research around campus environments.  Barker (1968) came from a psychological background and stated that people (students) interact with their environment based on forces within that environment (social pressures, mores, cues, etc), while Holland (1959) looked at how the characteristics of the person plus the environmental characteristics created a 'fit' for each individual.  Pervin (1968) purported that students are naturally attracted to environments that are similar and different from themselves.

So, explain it to me in laymen's terms.  Campus environments is all about creating a physical environment that promotes a positive interaction between student, faculty, and learning.  In mathematical terms:

person + environment = behavior & learning


Component x purpose = impact


There are four main components in your role to examine:

  1. 1)      the physical environment (what does your office look like? How are the tables and chair arranged? What sounds do students hear in your campus location? How does your geographic location and climate impact your work? What is the campus building in which you work like?)
  2. 2)      aggregate (what is the student culture like? What is the "typical" student like? What are cultures that exist only on your campus?)
  3. 3)      organizational (how is your campus department structured? Is it hierarchical or not? How formal is your work area? How do layers of authority exist?)
  4. 4)      Constructed cues (what are traditions on campus?  Social mores? Physical artifacts? Celebrations?)

 Within these four components there are four purposes that these cross with to make a positive or negative impact on campus: 1) safety, 2) inclusion, 3) involvement and 4) community. 

So, what does this mean for you?  The start of the semester is a time to reflect on the past semesters and what went well and not so well.  Within that, we should not only be evaluating our teaching, our assistance, and our advisement to students, but also the environments in which we work and the environments we create.  Take time this week to think about the physical layouts of your environments, the words you use, the standards you set, and the cues you give to students.  Certainly we can all share examples of how we didn't "fit" in a certain environment, and we are able to flesh out what created that lack of fit.  Turn the tables and think about your role from a student's perspective: are you creating a positive campus environment fit for each student YOU interact with?

Campus Life Spotlight will be returning to its regularly scheduled Tuesday posts in the Staff Digest.  You can find past articles online, too!

Barker, R. G. (1959). Ecological Psychology: Concepts and methods for studying the environment of human behavior, Stanford University Press, Palo Alto, CA

Holland, J. L. (1959). A theory of vocational choice. Journal of Counseling Psychology, 6: 35-45.

Pervin, L. A. Performance and satisfaction as a function of individual-environment fit. Psychological Bulletin, 69, 56-68.

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