Space Matters began as a five-week student engagement and inquiry project winter term 2018. Twenty-five student leaders of color, representing PCC’s 4 campuses, were chosen through a college-wide outreach effort. As a cohort, we started winter term by examining our own perceptions and experiences as PCC students. We did this by conducting a critical race spatial analysis of the built environments and spatial arrangements on our “home” campus. We tapped into our own unique positionalities in order to uncover hidden messages that we perceived to convey and perpetuate dominant narratives, social norms, or oppressive ideologies.
We individually analyzed our own campuses and spent time examining built environments documenting our observations through photos which we then analyzed together as a research team with our peers during workshop sessions. In the end, we took pictures of built environments that were particularly meaningful to us. The process of critically analyzing spaces helped us uncover dominant narratives we felt, but had not yet had the language to name.
After two weeks of doing an exploration of our perceptions, we decided to learn about other students of color’s perception of PCC spaces district-wide across the four campuses. We wanted to target our inquiry on the voices of students of color for this project based on CRT’s attention to counter-narratives and the epistemic advantage students of color bring when speaking about racial equity.
We designed questions and developed a survey after examining our own spatial field notes. Our survey contained both multiple choice and open-ended questions. Over the course of two weeks we divided up by our home campuses to conduct face-to-face outreach in which we approached and engaged students of color in common spaces like libraries, lounges, or resource centers as well as hallways, classrooms, and cafeterias. As a result we collected a total of 138 surveys.
In March 2018, we invited PCC staff in Facilities Planning, educational leaders, architectural design consultants, and other stakeholders to a community forum titled, “How Space Matters: Reflections from a Student Inquiry Project on Race, Space and the PCC Landscape.” At the forum we offered an analysis of our collective socio-spatial experiences at PCC and the student survey findings. Over 60 college leaders and stakeholders attended this event which ended in an open discussion.
Our research team was invited to return for a ten-week, paid internship where we would conduct a critical race spatial analysis of two buildings--an academic building and a student services building. The summer inquiry project consisted of a cohort of 12 student leaders who had previously participated in the winter project.
The first inquiry project involved an analysis of the Health Technology (HT) building--an academic building that was scheduled for upcoming renovations. To conduct this analysis, our cohort expanded on our knowledge of critical race spatial theory tenets, and utilized our own lived experiences along with our observations of dominant narratives as they manifest in the built environment. We divided into small groups organized by 1) classrooms, 2) laboratories, 3) hallways and walls. We spent hours analyzing the spaces and observing the built environment, material objects, spatial arrangements, art, signage, and other auditory and olfactory characteristics of the space.
We analyzed how these objects and arrangements work to perpetuate, conceal, normalize, or reproduce dominant narratives of power, social hierarchies, and white supremacy. We took photographs of these objects and spaces, and took notes on how and why they were significant and how they communicate and reproduce socializing messages and dominant narratives. We then discussed them amongst our small groups, and shared our findings with the larger group.
Student Services Building
The second project was an analysis of a newly-renovated student services building which houses resource centers such as: the Multicultural Center, the Women’s Resource Center, the Queer Resource Center, the Veterans Resource Center, as well as the student government organization.
For this analysis, we wanted to talk to all PCC students who utilized the common area and student resource centers. We wanted to learn how PCC students perceived the new common space, how students used the space, whether or not the space was reflective of student’s identities and values, and if students felt that the space was intimidating or inclusive. To do so, we crafted survey questions using what we learned from our experiences during the Winter project. We set up a table in the common space and worked in shifts over the course of three weeks. We invited students to take the survey face-to-face in the space because we felt that students taking the survey should be able to have a visual and physical reference to the space in question. We provided laptops for students to complete the survey and offered snacks as an appreciation of their time. Students also had the option to use their own smartphone or laptop to complete the survey. We totaled 215 completed surveys.
After 15 weeks of inquiry, outreach, analysis, and assessment guided by a critical race spatial lens we presented insights and recommendations to educational leaders, stakeholders, and the PCC community. We designed an interactive Critical Tour that allowed us to present our findings in the corresponding spaces and parallel an experience that mirrors one had by students on campus. We led over 70 administrators, planners, designers, stakeholders, and community members through an hour-long tour of key stops through spaces we analyzed. At each stop, we shared quotes, survey results, and other research findings. The tour began in the campus student services building and culminated in a lecture room where we engaged in an open dialogue.
A Call for Critical Race Spatial Practice and Transformation
In July 2018 our research team presented: Critical Race Participatory Action Process -- an equity approach for institutional planning and campus design. Given the ways in which space does in fact matter and based on our practical experience, this praxis-oriented model involves a set of four strategies that educational leaders, planners, and architects can take to put into practice the theoretical tenets of CRT and spatial theory.
Since 2019 some members of the research team have presented our work, findings, and recommendations more broadly at local and national conferences including:
Critical Race Theory in Planning and Design: A Case Study. AIA Oregon Future Vision. (2020)
Space Matters: Race, Equity, and Design. Student Success and Retention Conference, Portland, Oregon. (2019)
Applied CRT and Spatial Theory in Campus Facilities Planning: An Integrated Tool for Participatory Action Research, Intersectional, Inquiry, and Institutional Change. Critical Race Studies in Education Association Conference, Los Angeles, California. (2019)
Increase Student Participation in Planning to Create More Equitable Spaces. Society for College and University Planners, Seattle, Washington. (2019)