Poverty of Experience and Relationships

Date of Award


Degree Name

Ph.D. in Educational Administration


Department of Educational Administration


Matthew Witenstein


The college student experience was severely altered due to the COVID-19 pandemic during the spring semester of 2020. At that time, college administrators had no idea what was in store for their students in the coming weeks, months, and ultimately years. Because the pandemic is still a new phenomenon, little research exists on the effect of COVID-19 on sense of belonging for college students. This study aimed contribute to that literature base and focused on better understanding the lived experience of students at a small, private institution in the Midwest during the COVID-19 pandemic, specifically looking at sense of belonging and use of campus space through a third space framework. Third spaces are widely studied in the fields of education, cultural studies, and architecture to examine how cultural, human, and physical factors come together (Oldenburg and Brissett, 1982). Third spaces, unique from an individual's home (first space) or work/school (second space), encompass all the other spaces a person occupies (Oldenburg and Brissett, 1984; Bhabha, 1990). These spaces on college campuses are places like student unions, coffee shops, lobbies, and outdoor common spaces. Examining sense of belonging and use of campus space through the lens of third spaces allowed participants to reflect on their experience and offer valuable insights into how they navigated the pandemic, both on and off campus. Five themes emerged from this study. Those themes are: 1) People make the space; 2) Mental Health and Imposter Syndrome affect how people show up to different spaces and present themselves; 3) University-imposed restrictions affected students' ability to make friends and build community; 4) Favorite spaces on campus were overwhelmingly identified as third spaces; and 5) Participants felt a sense of ownership over their sense of belonging.


Education, Higher Education, Higher Education Administration, Sense of Belonging, Third Space, COVID-19, Campus Space, Higher Education, Campus Life

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