Social space needed for students

QU senior communication major Chloe Nott recently conducted research regarding the importance of foodways on college campuses. Nott decided to share her findings in the hope of benefitting colleges and students.

Foodways can be defined as all the activities, attitudes, behaviors, and beliefs associated with food. Several previous studies concluded that communal eating is a mechanism for facilitating social bonding and can affect lifestyle and mood. 

Nott used a survey to conduct primary research. She focused on how students valued eating with others and the importance of shared eating spaces. Data was gathered from 39 anonymous QU students. A combination of 17 demographic and topic-related questions were asked. The results from the survey suggested that college students do highly value shared eating spaces.

A question asking the level of importance of shared eating spaces received a very similar response from all respondents. The follow-up written answer as to why it was/wasn’t important highlighted the need for community and connection. Multiple students reflected on Covid-19 restrictions and the need for shared eating spaces in order to network and create stronger community. For example:

“I feel, especially for freshmen, that public eating spaces are important because it gives them a chance to meet new people and have a chance to interact with people other than who they see in class and who they live with. For everyone else, COVID knocked out our chances of meeting new people and making those bonds through the cafeteria, so being able to use that space now is important in rebuilding those relationships.” Respondent 11 (Nott, 14).

The final survey question asked what changes respondents would make to the cafeteria dining experience. The main improvement people suggest regards the food itself, but other suggestions were to change the atmosphere/environment. A theme throughout the responses involved a dedicated coffee area and comfortable seating. Some responses detailed various opportunities for change.

“There should be more than one caf on campus. Or maybe a coffee bar for example. And the food – well we all have a common opinion about that,” Respondent 28 (Nott, 14).

Nott drew one immediate practical application from the results of the research. She stated the research has opened an opportunity for college administration to take on student suggestions. Understanding what students want and need can benefit colleges in several ways. For example, student satisfaction can lead to increased retention rates, positive campus environments, and a greater sense of community.

Further research is needed to conclusively prove the importance of shared eating spaces and direct impact on wellbeing. Nott also suggested research into several related areas. Some topics include the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic on college campus foodways and social interaction during eating, the influence of media on college campus foodways, verbal and nonverbal communication between different groups while eating together, and the ways dietary requirements and available food on college campuses impact the physical and mental wellbeing of students.

You can read the entire research paper here.

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