Publication Date

Spring 5-12-2018

Document Type

Action research project: Open access

Degree Name

MA Higher Education Leadership


Leadership Studies


The purpose of this research is to understand how the structure of the Student Leadership, Involvement, and Changemaking (SLIC) space influences students’ sense of belonging. This study uses Mills’ (2000) Dialectic Action Research Spiral in conjunction with surveys, interviews, and focus groups to explore the questions: How does the structure of the Student Leadership, Involvement, and Changemaking space influence undergraduate students’ sense of belonging? Also, how can I, as a student affairs practitioner, enhance students’ sense of belonging in the SLIC?

In the context of this study, sense of belonging refers to the extent that one feels accepted, respected, included, supported, at home, and at ease within a space. This research explores how the structure of the SLIC, including the location and positioning of furniture, work spaces, resources, and staff impact belonging.

Data was collected during three cycles which took place from September 2017 to March 2018. The first cycle is a survey which aims to understand student belonging at USD and in the SLIC. The survey gathers data on where students spend time on campus and why they are drawn to those places. The second cycle uses interviews and focus groups to investigate students’ perceptions of the SLIC. Questions explore what aspects of the space work well and which aspects can be improved. The third cycle uses a survey to gather feedback on how each area of the SLIC contributes to student belonging. Questions examine how features, such as lighting and temperature, impact students’ perceptions of the space. 92 undergraduate students participated in the study. Information collected produced qualitative and quantitative data.

The research shows that a majority of participants feel a moderate to strong sense of belonging in the SLIC. Many students reported feeling a sense of belonging because the space is welcoming, it creates a sense of community, or because they hold a formal leadership role connected to an office in the space. Other students reported a lower sense of belonging because they do not have personal connections in the space or because they do not hold a leadership role.

Data gathered shows that many aspects of the SLIC are meeting placemaking objectives and that some aspects can be improved. A majority of participants indicated that the lighting, temperature, and furniture are comfortable. They noted that they like the open office concept and enjoy having staff in the open spaces. Students indicated that they feel the greatest sense of belonging in the Creative Zone and the courtyard. While students enjoy many aspects of the SLIC, they also indicated that the space can be confusing and difficult to navigate. In addition, the majority of participants indicated that they do not feel ownership over the space.

The study provides several suggestions for improving the SLIC to increase belonging. It recommends that the layout foster a sense of community. For example, tables and chairs should be arranged in square or clustered formations which promote peer interaction and collaboration. Next, the open office concept could be enhanced by removing cubicles and creating more open work places. This would make the space more welcoming for visitors. Beyond this, art should include pictures from various campus events and should highlight pictures of students. Including a diverse range of pictures would foster belonging for a larger group of students.

In addition, it would be helpful to increase signage in the SLIC and surrounding areas. Signs could be used to direct students to the floor and its various spaces, to welcome students, and to indicate open work areas. Beyond this, it would be helpful to extend the Creative Zone hours so more students can use the space. Finally, resources such as whiteboards, bean bag chairs, and charging stations could be added to make the space more comfortable and conducive to peer interaction. Any changes should be assessed to ensure they meet placemaking objectives.