Social Interaction and the Built Environment: A case study of university students in Waterloo, Ontario
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In recent years, there have been rising calls for universities to develop policies that support student well-being due to the growing concern for mental health on campuses. One area of concern is the influence of the built environment on students’ mental health. A built environment that fosters social interaction is often recognized as a vital component in supporting well-being, friendship formation, academic achievement, self-identity and even knowledge creation. The literature has identified housing type, location, and quality as substantial determinants of students’ social lives and well-being. However, research has not yet studied the importance of housing and the built environment in shaping social interactions among university students in detail. In this study, we examine the relationship between the role of the built environment, such as proximity to third places, on social interaction among students at the University of Waterloo. We particularly compare the degree of social interaction and connectedness and studying at third places like university libraries and coffeeshops and compare degree of social interaction and connectedness with students who study at home. We draw on unique time-series survey data that includes information from the same group of students collected over the course of the academic year (Fall 2018 to Summer 2019). The survey design allows us to draw potential conclusions about causal links between built form and indicators commonly associated with mental health, such as degree of social interaction and feelings of connectedness. The survey includes information on students’ residential environments, built form, demography, and various indicators of social interactions and chance encounters. Through ordered logistic regression analysis, we found that students who study at coffeeshops and university libraries felt a higher degree of social connectedness, had more positive attitudes toward planned gatherings, and preferred living close to amenities compared to students who study at home. However, it is important to note that there were differences in these findings over the course of the academic year, and that programming, such as social events, were as important as built form in shaping indicators of well-being. The empirical evidence from this research supports the notion that the use of third places heightens feelings toward social connectedness. The knowledge gained from investigating the relationship between the role of the built environment in influencing social interactions among the student population will be valuable to universities and planners to develop policies, programs, and initiatives to provide opportunities and create environments that support social connectedness. A crucial element of this research was to acknowledge the differences among students who study at third places and those who study at home. Though some students use third places to socialize, and feel connected, others may not. This research raises some questions – are there other alternative initiatives that can be taken beyond creating social built environments that could encourage students to engage in social interaction? This research emphasizes the important role of the built environment and programming in shaping students’ social interaction and well-being.
Cite this version of the work
Tharushe Jayaveer (2021). Social Interaction and the Built Environment: A case study of university students in Waterloo, Ontario. UWSpace. http://hdl.handle.net/10012/17088