Document Type



Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


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First Advisor's Name

Daniel Saunders

First Advisor's Committee Title

Committee chair

Second Advisor's Name

Benjamin Baez

Second Advisor's Committee Title

Committee member

Third Advisor's Name

James Burns

Third Advisor's Committee Title

Committee member

Fourth Advisor's Name

Remy Dou

Fourth Advisor's Committee Title

Committee member


student engagement, student affairs, space and place

Date of Defense



This phenomenological qualitative study examined how five college students understood their collegiate engagement in relation to spaces and places. The study’s purpose was to develop a spatialized understanding by describing the nature of meaningful student engagement as occurring within places and spaces. The problem addressed through this study is the treatment of engagement as understood through institutional metrics which reduce such a phenomenon to campus-centric and measurable place-based characteristics. As argued through this study’s framework and findings, experiencing a phenomenon such as engagement is a matter of lived experience and exists in relation to space and place. The participants’ lived experiences speak to the implications of space, spatializing, and place, which are not largely reflected in current literature on college environments and students.

Doreen Massey’s (2005) For Space is held in relation to van Manen’s (2016) Researching Lived Experience in order to frame this study. Purposeful sampling was used to select five participants. Four semi-structured interviews and a photo-elicitation interview were conducted to collect data. The fourth semi-structured interview was amended to the study in order to continue inquiry in relation to experiencing spaces and places during the COVID-19 pandemic. Through the use of diffractive readings, interpretive phenomenological analysis, and subsumption, three super-ordinate themes and seven sub-themes were identified. The super-ordinate themes are: a) geography of borderlessness, c) the synchrony house, and d) ordering space.

The study’s findings suggest that participants experienced engagement in ways that required constant negotiation with one’s identities, covered-up borders, perceptions of synchrony, and bureaucratic arrangements. Institutional practices were mostly understood as existing to favor particular ways of being. Such spatialized outcomes of experiencing space according to hegemonic standards induced perceptions and behaviors that do not necessarily promulgate student engagement. Participants experienced college in a self-reflective manner and continually negotiated with spaces of institutionally ascribed order. There is disparity between practices that order spaces of the institution and treating engagement as a matter of lived experience. The present study suggests that inquiry and practice premised on fixity is maligned with students’ efforts to generate experiences and relationships in educationally meaningful ways.





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