The way people interact with the built environment can influence whether they feel comfortable in a space or if they feel they belong among the crowd. But the people who design learning spaces and the people who use them may not feel that way about them.

A new study from the University of Kansas found that students and classroom designers had different perceptions of the masculine and feminine characteristics of classroom spaces and how those characteristics affected their sense of belonging.

Researchers asked undergraduates and classroom design professionals about their perceptions of classrooms with design features categorized as masculine and feminine, finding that their femininity There is a strong, antagonistic relationship between their perceptions of and sense of belonging to spaces. The authors said the findings underscore the need to better understand how students perceive learning spaces and how learning spaces can foster a sense of belonging.

Studies show that how students experience learning spaces affects their sense of belonging and that when they feel they belong, they have better academic outcomes. But little work has been done on specific design features and how people perceive them as associated with masculinity or femininity and how such features affect their sense of belonging in classes held in their rooms. do In two new studies, researchers surveyed undergraduates and design professionals about their responses to four learning spaces.

“We say masculine and feminine and they conjure up images in people’s minds, but not necessarily the same images from one person to another,” said Michael Ralph, vice president and director of research at MultiStudio, one of the study’s authors. Up to the person.” “When we asked students and designers about the same spaces, we didn’t see a single difference in feel. Their ideas were very different. I think that emphasizes that we’re looking at these spaces. There is an important personal component to how we interact with others.”

Cheryl Wright, a lecturer specializing in learning best practices in KU’s School of Education and Human Sciences and a study co-author, said she regularly sees a difference in how classroom students engage with the class. happens. When students learn about polarizing topics that can be personally or politically charged, those who are not comfortable in the space may not feel like they belong in the debate.

“We definitely want to have conversations and interactions where people feel safe. We don’t just mean physically safe, but safe to share our thoughts,” Wright said. “On topics that are difficult to discuss, the space in which they learn is important.”

The researchers addressed their questions in two studies. First, they collected data from undergraduates at five institutions of higher education across the United States. In another, they collected data from professionals at design firms across the United States and Canada.

Respondents were asked to express their reactions to four computer-generated images of classrooms intended to strongly evoke masculinity, such as black and white color palettes and angular/linear space features or soft colors. With femininity, extra windows, swivel tables and away from shifts. dark forest Other places incorporated these features to a lesser extent.

Respondents were randomly shown one of four locations and asked how much they felt 14 one-word cues were associated with the location shown. They were then asked four questions about how much they felt they would belong to the place. Results showed that students’ perceptions of feminine traits in the rooms coincided with a higher sense of belonging, but perceptions of femininity among professionals were the opposite — a lower sense of belonging.

The study, by Ralph Wright, was written by Julia Pascuto, design director of Lemay x FLDWORK, a Canadian design firm; And Rebecca Pedrosa Martinez, a designer at MultiStudio, was published during the study. Journal of Interior Design.

Student respondents who reported a sense of belonging in more feminine spaces were represented across genders, the authors said.

The authors also found that there was no hostility toward more masculine spaces, or reactions to feeling like they wouldn’t belong there — only that they were more related when they perceived a space to be more feminine. were

The fact that students and design professionals react negatively in terms of their perceptions of classroom environments suggests that architects, designers, and others who design and create learning environments for others must Can’t believe their designs and choices will resonate with others the way they do with themselves. . And those choices can potentially reinforce negative stereotypes or make some students feel unwelcome or uncomfortable, Ralph said.

For their part, teachers are often assigned a room in which their classes are held and cannot control design elements such as the number of windows in the room, their placement, paint colors or furniture. Glued in place. However, they can influence how students interact with each other and with teachers, such as encouraging collaborative groups or arranging furniture to encourage discussion when possible. refer to.

“The sense of connection has to be intentional. I want students to have a transformative education,” Wright said. “Students come with different backgrounds and life experiences. It’s very important to me that we develop a sense of belonging. And my students have said that they feel comfortable discussing controversial or difficult issues in such spaces. They feel more comfortable giving them convenience.”

Part of the research in this study also found that students would choose to take certain classes based on the type of room it was offered in, whether women would prefer traditional lecture halls and the like. Prioritize the studies done by Ralph and colleagues at KU. .

“We want to learn more about what we can do to make a difference in design, in terms of learning spaces, student housing and the built environment, and what makes good design that allows students to learn,” Ralph said. It helps them feel like they belong.”