“It would give you a space to be yourself”: The role for interior design in increasing Aboriginal student sense of belonging in Western Australian boarding schools

“It would give you a space to be yourself”: The role for interior design in increasing Aboriginal student sense of belonging in Western Australian boarding schools Thesis

School of Design and Built Environment

  • Author(s): Whettingsteel, Emma
  • Published: 2020
  • Publisher: Curtin University
  • Volume: PhD

Abstract: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students can have their sense of belonging challenged by pursuing the education opportunity of attending a boarding school. This is exemplified in the current literature through reported experiences of loneliness, isolation, homesickness, and the feeling of being ‘between two worlds’. However, there is an absence of research that relates these issues with the established ability for architecture to influence occupant wellbeing. Few studies have focussed on the potential role of interior design in contemporary Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander experiences of education. The aim of this doctoral thesis was to address this gap through a process of Participatory Action Research (PAR), in which data were collected by yarning and drawing with 27 current boarders (all Aboriginal people, 2 young men, 25 young women), 18 recent alumni (all Aboriginal people, 3 men, 15 women), and 7 boarding staff members (1 Aboriginal person, all women). Four major themes emerged that suggest a role for interior design in increasing student sense of belonging. These relate to the institutional characterisation of current boarding schools (Place Identity), an ‘all or nothing’ experience of social connectedness (Interior Architecture as a Social Atlas), the value of student participation in ongoing interior design actions (Spatial Voice), and the need for spaces that offer social and cultural relief (Third Space). From these themes, a new theoretical model for designing belonging is proposed - ‘the feedback model’. In this model, the built environment is conceptualised as a reciprocal storytelling tool for messages about identity and belonging. Although only a snapshot of voices is reported, it is proposed that the findings could have broader application to residential education settings.

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Suggested Citation
Whettingsteel, Emma, 2020, “It would give you a space to be yourself”: The role for interior design in increasing Aboriginal student sense of belonging in Western Australian boarding schools, Volume:PhD, Thesis, viewed 02 July 2022, https://www.nintione.com.au/?p=22762.

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