The meaning of place in an urban context for the under -represented minority student experience at NYU

Nancy J Morrison, University of Pennsylvania


This qualitative case study explored how under-represented minority students perceived their connectedness to the campus environment in navigating a distinctively urban, predominantly white institution---New York University (NYU). This institution has experienced a transformation from a more traditional urban institution that is accessible to the community into a selective research institution, and such market shifts have implications for the demographic composition of urban institutions. Using the theoretical framework of campus ecology, this research sought to inform the practice of supporting student persistence and graduation within the context of these changing institutional environments. Student success, satisfaction and completion are facilitated by positive engagement with the social and physical environments of a campus. The idea of connection to place for diverse groups of students becomes even more complex when urban-ness is a factor, as networks of support may be more integrated with the city environment. By employing qualitative research methods, including perceptual mapping, focus groups, and individual interviews, I sought to develop an understanding of how a group of under-represented minority students made meaning out of the distinctive, urban collegiate experience at NYU. The research explored the following questions: (1) How does the urban-ness of the physical environment influence the students' connections to a campus environment that is in and of the city?; (2) What are their perceptions of the campus climate at an urban PWI; and (3) How and where do students receive support and motivation in making meaning of their college experience? Findings indicated that the campus was generally perceived to be positive, rather than hostile. Students found it meaningful, welcoming, good and friendly, but also---characteristic of an urban setting---chaotic and tense. Students' expectations for the educational environment were framed by their high vocational aspirations; these vocational pressures were fostered and complicated by the urban context. Familiarity with the city and proximity to home and family provided support for many of the students who found connecting to the institution more challenging. To foster connection and success for students, recommendations for more intentional support structures and assessment of campus spaces are offered.

Subject Area

Higher education

Recommended Citation

Morrison, Nancy J, "The meaning of place in an urban context for the under -represented minority student experience at NYU" (2007). Dissertations available from ProQuest. AAI3255856.