A MATTER OF PLACE: A MICRO-ECOLOGICAL STUDY OF COLLEGE RESIDENCE HALLS
The aim of this study was to assess the impact of the residential environment on freshman behavior and to compare this impact with precollege influences.
Moving into a particular dorm, into a new residential environment, had a significant effect on students even after controlling for precollege influences. Furthermore, differences among dorms were found for many types of behavior and dormitory measures often dominated the prediction equations.
Physical aspects of the dorms mattered. Freshmen living in high-rise dorms knew fewer people in the area near their rooms than did those living in low-rise dorms. However, for the wider dorm and campus spaces there were no significant differences in friends made. Location in the largest most "urban" area of campus also affected personal interactions. Freshmen there spent more time with friends in both kinds of spaces. Unfortunately there were negative consequences to these time budgets since time spent near the student's room was negatively correlated with first semester grades.
Social and demographic dorm variables were important. Dorms where rules were not enforced were associated with lower grades, and unkempt, noisy dorms were associated with high drug consumption. However, these influences were balanced if students came with good high school grades. In the early months of school, observations of antisocial behavior were higher in dorms where rowdiness under the influence of alcohol was acceptable; later, individual drug and alcohol use mattered more. At all times coed dorms were characterized by accepting attitudes, more social contacts, and more antisocial behavior than segregated dorms (excluding all-male residence halls from the sample).
Retention to graduation was a function of both individual and dorm measures of harmony with the prevailing social order. In a school known for its partying atmosphere, students interested only in what was taught in class and who lived in dorms with permissive standards of social behavior, tended to remain.
Overall the residential experience made a difference but there were balancing effects. Dorms exposed students to drugs and problematic behavior, but they also provided a good place to meet people and gave students the freedom they wanted in running their lives.