Place: Fairhaven Commons

Author Lynn A. Staeheli explains in her chapter “Place” how the simple word “place” is a such a complex word that has multiple meanings. Staeheli gives examples of some of the definitions place can have. These definitions of place include places as a physical location or site, cultural and/or social location, context, construction over time and as a process (159). These interpretations of place can be relatable to all places. For example, a spot that I frequently pass, the Fairhaven Commons can fit into all five definitions. However, I will focus on the cultural/social location and process definitions.

The Fairhaven Commons is basically a lounge area located in the Fairhaven College building in Western Washington University. Most people pass by this area while heading upstairs to the dining hall. However, there are people who stop by the commons to hang out. Students can sit on one of the many couches provided, get food at the little market inside or rent things out at the Information Desk.

Staeheli’s explains the cultural/social location definition of place where “people are located within webs of cultural, social, economic, and political relationships that shape their identities, or personalities” (160). Staeheli gives the example of how historically it was more appropriate for women to be in private places like the home, and church. However, during the war, the appropriate place for them to be was in a factory. I understand this definition as how people fit into a place. In the Fairhaven Common, the people who “fit in” this place are students. At any given time, you can expect to find a handful of people in the common. About 99% of the time, these people are students. This is probably because the Fairhaven Commons is located on a college campus. The Fairhaven College is located in the Fairhaven dorm community and as I stated before, the commons is just below the dining hall. Also, most of the services provided at the commons is only for students. For example if you want to rent something from the Information Desk, you have to have a Western Washington University ID which means you have to be a student. If you want to buy something from the market you either need to have cash or a Western ID. The Fairhaven Commons is a place where people can come and relax. This is because this is the social norm; it is what everyone does when they come here. Although I knew that the commons is a place for students, I never realized that I had never seen anyone older than 30 there except for the cashier at the market.

“Place as outcome and emphasizes place as a process, always ‘becoming’” is the definition Staeheli gives for the process definition. How a place affects a person and vice versa is an alternative interpretation we came up with in my english class. The tranquil environment and simple arrangement of the commons welcomes students to come and relax. The ease that the Fairhaven Commons gives has cause students to become more comfortable here. In the beginning of the the year, barely anyone would be seen there. As the year has progressed, you can see more and more people hanging out at the commons especially in the evening after most classes are done for the day. Although I am a freshman and have been on campus for only 15 weeks, there have been few changes that have occurred. I can’t imagine how much the Fairhaven Commons has changed over the years. Both the place and the students have changed each other.

In conclusion, the place is not a word that has one exact definition. It has multiple meanings that can be used on all places. Trying to figure out how a place fits into each definition helps better understand why things work the way they do at that place.

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