September 13, 2012
Matt Van Jura
What’s your “spot?” Your hangout? Your escape? The place where everybody knows your name?
For my grandfather, it was Sno-White Donuts. When I was young, I’d often run errands with my dad on Saturday mornings. As we’d drive past the corner of Pearl Road and West 130th Street, it was a guarantee that my grandpa’s Mercury Grand Marquis would be parked in front of the donut store, and that he was seated in his usual stool at the counter. The shop was less than two blocks from his house. The staff knew his order. His friends would be waiting for him. And there were donuts. Why would he go anywhere else?
Whether you have a neighborhood donut shop, a café down the block, or a cozy pub around the corner, “your place” can be a wonderful thing. In fact, sociologist Ray Oldenburg believed so strongly in the value of place as an essential quality to life that he coined a term for these venues, calling them “third places.” According to Oldenburg, if “first place” is where you live, and “second place” is where you work, then “third places” are the places we go in our free time.
Third places are comfortable and they are accessible. People are free to come and go as they please. They encourage people to mingle with regular friends or meet perfect strangers, and the conversations are rich. For the regulars of a third place, there is a shared sense of community that unites. What’s more, Oldenburg believes that access to these third places is essential to one’s well-being, happiness, and need to belong to a community
Sound familiar? College unions are some of the best third places! Our facilities are so much more than the shell of a building. They are where study groups converge for late-night coffee. Where lifelong friendships are forged, and student leaders develop their plans to change the world. Once again, it goes back to the description laid out in the Role of the College Union, a “living room” for the campus.
As union professionals, it is critical to our work to provide vibrant third places for our campus community. We do this in a variety of ways, whether working in food operations, event services, as campus programmers, etc. What we do builds community. And speaking from my experiences, as a result of my work, I too find community in the union by working alongside people who believe in the same mission and values as me. At times, I begin to blur the line between my “second place” (work) and my “third place” (community spaces).
What is your “third place?” Am I right to think that work can be a “third place?” And where does virtual community fit in this? I’m curious to hear others’ thoughts.
Finally, for those looking to learn more about the idea of place and ways to build community on campus, be sure to check out Physical Place on Campus.
Matt Van Jura
is the Program Advisor at University of Michigan–Ann Arbor.
Matt is a program advisor within the Center for Campus Involvement. He has served in his current role since 2010. His professional interests include leadership development, campus programming, and the intersection of community with education. In his free time, Matt enjoys running, cycling, and following college football.