Finding Comfort on Denison’s Campus

By Oliver Gladfelter

Last semester, comfort was a common theme brought up in many campus dialogues about identity, power, and privilege. Often times, students expressed feeling uncomfortable in certain areas on campus – a narrative 127 was able to provide some empirical evidence for by exploring comfort levels in a very specific and unique setting. While getting out of your comfort zone can foster immense learning and growth, constant discomfort begins to yield diminishing returns. Having a home base on campus is important as it allows students to recharge and create optimal settings for open conversation and relationship building. So just where are these home bases at Denison? Where do students feel the most comfortable on campus?

To measure this, we surveyed nearly 600 students in March 2017 and asked: “In what 2 spaces on campus do you feel the most comfortable?” Because survey respondents could answer any way they pleased, we got all sorts of answers, ranging from “The Croc” (whatever that is?) to “I am very comfortable everywhere on campus, especially on a nice, sunny day” and “anywhere my friends are” (which are both adorable yet also unhelpful to this study).

In total, we collected 1,102 answers to the question, which I then aggregated into broader groups by combining related or comparable places. For example, I created a ‘Residence Halls’ category as a catch all for answers like “Shorney Hall,” “My room,” or “The dorms.” Here are the top 10 common locations students indicated they felt the most comfortable on campus [1]:

Figure 1 – Top Ten Places of Comfort on Denison’s Campus


Remember, these were not the only groups or possible answers, but simply the ten most common. So don’t let Whisler’s and the Open House’s lower percentages fool you – making it on this list is a big deal when you consider all of the dozens of unique answers we got. That being said, let’s take a closer look at the three most popular places…

#1 – Residence Spaces

By far, the most common answer fell into the residence spaces category. This consisted of any mention of ‘residence halls,’ ‘my bedroom,’ ‘my dorm,’ ‘my apartment,’ as well as any residence hall called out by name – probably every single residence hall was mentioned at least a few times. I also included answers such as ‘my friend’s room’ or ‘my boyfriend’s apartment,’ which was fairly common as well.

A huge majority of students listed at least one residence hall as a place of comfort on campus (72.1%). However, this varied by one notable factor – employment by the Residential Education & Housing department. While 75.8% of all non-RAs expressed feeling most comfortable in the dorms, only 62% of Resident Assistants and Head Residents feel the same – a significant difference (p-value = .035). This is likely because becoming an RA blurs the line between home and work, as most of their duties revolve around the very place they live, making their room feel more like a work office than a place to relax at the end of the day.

#2 – Academic Spaces

Our runner up should please Denison faculty and parents alike – any space revolving around academics was the second most common place of comfort. This included the library, all the academic buildings, department lounge, professor’s offices, and any mention of classrooms or being in class.

Surprisingly, there was no correlation between GPA and listing an academic space. Academic performance isn’t the driver here; instead, it’s effort: the more time a student spends on homework a night, the more likely they were to feel most comfortable in an academic building or in the classroom (p-value<.01). 44.3% of students who spend less than the average of 3.9 hours of studying a night listed an academic location, as compared to 49.8% of those who spend 4 or more hours a night studying. I think we all know that gut-wrenching feeling of walking into an exam we didn’t study for or going to class without having done the reading. Definitely not a pleasant experience.

#3 – Athletic Spaces

Rounding off our top three is the athletic spaces category, composed mostly of mentions of “Mitchell” or “the gym,” but also the football field and various locker rooms. Because I can’t imagine anyone but members of Denison’s Swimming & Diving team saying they feel the most comfortable in the swimmer’s locker room (at least I hope not…), I suspected there’d be a strong correlation between student athletes and choosing this space.

I was mostly right here – whether or not a student is a varsity athlete strongly predicts how likely they are to find comfort in athletic spaces. The majority of varsity athletes indicated they felt most comfortable in an athletic space  (54.3%), compared to only 6.2% of non-varsity athletes. Something that surprised me, however, was that participating in club sports isn’t predictive at all. Club sport athletes and students who don’t participant in sports in any capacity are equally as likely to feel most comfortable in an athletic space.

Interestingly enough, just as time spent studying correlates with a student’s likelihood of finding comfort in academic spaces, the same variable also correlates with feeling comfortable in athletic spaces…just in the opposite way. The more time a student spends doing homework and studying, the less likely they were to list an athletic space as a place of comfort.


Highlighting the negative correlation between studying more and finding comfort in the gym is not to suggest that athletes are less academically-inclined, or that the most-academic students are unathletic; rather, it demonstrates that college is a never-ending balancing act which requires students to make choices in how they spend their time. We cannot determine whether students naturally feel most comfortable where they just happen to spend more time or if they’re intentionally choosing to hang out where they feel more comfort, but the two factors are strongly correlated.

Oliver Gladfelter is a huge advocate of procrastination and spends most of his time finding new ways to waste time. He also studies political science on the side.


1. The percentages used to determine the ‘Top 10’ do not represent the percent of students who listed that campus location as a place of comfort; rather, they represent the number of instances each location was mentioned in comparison to the entire pool of answers. For example, while 2% of the student body listed The Open House as a comfort place, the building garnered half of that (1%) in percentage of all collected answers because most students gave two answers, only one being the Open House. This has no impact on the overall ranking, however – the top 10 list looks the same regardless of if you compare by percentage of students or percentage of total answers.

A few survey responses were omitted from this study. These included ambiguous answers such as “anywhere.” Additionally, a few answers were “Offices” and “Halls.” Having no way of distinguishing between organizational offices and professors’ offices, or academic halls and residence halls, these were omitted as well.

2 Comments Add yours

  1. BethAnn Zambella says:

    Dear Oliver, where did the Library fit in?


    1. Oliver Gladfelter says:

      Bethann, my apologies for not mentioning the library in the post, and thank you for the reminder – I’ll have to edit that in! The library was included in the academic spaces category, and was mentioned fairly commonly in students’ answers. If you’d like, I can pull out the individual stats for the library to see how it performed as a stand-alone category.

      Liked by 1 person

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