Students' perceptions of and experiences in a community standards residential environment

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Higher Education


Catherine McHugh Engstrom


Community standards, Residence halls, College students, Authority

Subject Categories



This qualitative study has sought to describe how students constructed their experiences in a Community Standards living environment at Midsize University. Forty-five students, from two residence halls (one predominately first year students and one predominately upper class students) participated in interviews and focus group meetings for this research. The study explores students' perceptions relative to the purpose and structure of the Community Standards Program, students' roles and engagement in the process of Community Standards, and how community was constructed on students' residence hall floors.

Specifically, students' perceptions of and experiences on their residence hall floors were analyzed: (a) through the lenses of competing visions of democracy; (b) through the filters of power and authority structures; and (c) within the context of community. The Community Standards Model was born from the notion that residence hall communities were defined and controlled by residence hall staff with very little student input and ownership. The aim of Community Standards was to shift this notion to communities that were student defined, initiated, and accountable. The first end of this continuum did not engage students in meaningful ways while the other did not adequately prepare them for self-governance. The stories told by students in this study suggest that the answer is somewhere in the middle. Perhaps the answer is shared governance.

As a result of an enhanced understanding of community and Community Standards as perceived by students, I argue that Community Standards and community development must be interwoven initiatives. In enacting a shared governance system and building communities that are relational in nature, there are number of issues to considered. Among these considerations are: staff and student readiness for shared governance, the role of friendships and acquaintances, the salience of issues over which students have control and, the power and authority structure on residence hall floors.


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