The Journal of College and University Student Housing - Volume 46, No. 2 - 104

Deborah Worley

women displayed the strongest sense of belonging according to survey data but that men
from all racial categories more frequently narrated a sense of belonging.
The findings of these studies encourage
us to consider the differences in the lenses, or
students' perceptions, through which sense of
belonging and community development are
considered. Moreover, this inclusive approach
emphasizes the individual student and their
experience and recognizes the importance of
both innate and situational characteristics that
may impact one's sense of belonging. In this
vein, the environments in which students live
are socially constructed, which is a conceptualization of community that is not present in
Beamer's (1974) framework.

DISCUSSION AND
IMPLICATIONS FOR RESIDENCE
LIFE PROFESSIONALS
Since Beamer's (1974) writing, residence
halls have undergone significant physical
changes that reflect a different landscape for
group living than that which existed in 1974
(Carroll, Carnaghi, Lempfert, & Johnes, 2003;
Demarest, 2000; Kennedy, 2001; Smith,
2000). There are enhanced amenities and
convenience factors of design and function,
positioning residence halls as central to institutional efforts to attract new students to
campus (Kennedy, 2001; Smith, 2000). This
role in recruitment does not diminish the
position of residence halls as the sites where
community formation and development take
place. There is greater emphasis on the way in
which residents experience community. This
is an important perspective to consider as
institutions think about supporting identity
104

Community in Retrospect

In a higher education setting, it
is possible for individuals to feel
most vulnerable and alone when
surrounded by other people. Despite
our best programming efforts,
students' perceptions of belonging to
their residential communities (and to
the larger institutional community)
sometimes lead them toward
isolation, further pushing them to the
margins of campus spaces.

development for students since it is becoming increasingly necessary for environments
to adapt to individuals and their lived experiences, rather than asking students to adapt to
the environment in which they live. It is in
this space that Beamer's (1974) notions about
community should be adapted to acknowledge the ways that contemporary communities in residence life settings help students
shape their environments to be the most effective and appropriate for their unique perspectives and lived experiences.
Although the landscape has changed, a
central truth remains the same: It is difficult
for students to thrive when they feel they do
not belong. We see this sentiment acknowledged and reflected in the evolution of campus
residential communities over time. Support
structures within our communities, such as
policies, planning, and programming, are only

THE JOURNAL OF COLLEGE AND UNIVERSITY STUDENT HOUSING

effective if they are inclusive and intentional.
But what does this mean for people who exist
at the margins? In a higher education setting,
it is possible for individuals to feel most vulnerable and alone when surrounded by other
people. Despite our best programming efforts,
students' perceptions of belonging to their
residential communities (and to the larger institutional community) sometimes lead them
toward isolation, further pushing them to the
margins of campus spaces. Systematically
fostering a sense of belonging yields greater
returns on student engagement, involvement,
and success (Strayhorn, 2019) and contributes
to critical components of community. This is
the challenge for residence life professionals
as community builders on campus. Knowing
who is in the community is just as important as knowing residents' perceptions of the
community.
Since Beamer's (1974) writing, there
has been an increase in specialized housing
options, such as residential living-learning
communities (Brower & Inkelas, 2010; Inkelas
& Weismen, 2003; Pike, Kuh, & McCormick,
2011; Zeller, 1994; Zhao & Kuh, 2004) and
gender-neutral or gender-inclusive housing
(Hobson, 2014; Wagner, Marine, & Nicolazzo, 2018). In general, specialized housing
options are known to have positive impacts on
students' college experiences and more specifically on students' academic success (Purdie
& Rosser, 2011), institutional connectedness
(Zhao & Kuh, 2004), self-discovery (Hobson,
2014; Wagner et al., 2018), and confidence
(Means & Pyne, 2017; Samura, 2018).
These studies make a strong argument for
implementing sound assessment practices
so that residence life professionals know the

most effective approaches to building community and supporting a sense of belonging.
Although Beamer (1974) did not mention assessment or learning outcomes, his notions of
community are well served by evidence-based
decision-making. He emphasized intentionality in serving students who live on campus,
evidenced in other frameworks and contemporary ways to consider community. To that end,
we must focus on what residents are actually
learning by participating in these and other
community-building programs and activities.

. . . residence halls have undergone
significant physical changes that
reflect a different landscape for
group living than that which
existed in 1974. There are enhanced
amenities and convenience factors
of design and function, positioning
residence halls as central to
institutional efforts to attract new
students to campus.

CONCLUSION
Beamer (1974) laid out four notions to guide
residence life professionals about the importance of community at a critical time in the
evolution of the profession. This paper compared current definitions of residence life
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The Journal of College and University Student Housing - Volume 46, No. 2

Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of The Journal of College and University Student Housing - Volume 46, No. 2

Contents
The Journal of College and University Student Housing - Volume 46, No. 2 - Intro
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