As a freshman in Bursley, I was always looking for new places to study. I’d always try to study in the lounges, but groups would always be using them either for residence hall meetings or Game of Thrones watch parties. I knew we had a Martin Luther King Jr. Lounge, but it was always shut. I didn’t understand why, but I never questioned it.
Trying to find archival materials on safe spaces on campus and how communities have created spaces for themselves in a predominately white institution, like the University of Michigan, I stumbled upon administrative files and news articles about the creation of the Minority Cultural Lounges. The lounges were a project under the department of housing initiated after the Black Action Movement fought through protests for more institutional support for minority students. BAM asked the administration to increase minority enrollment, increase financial aid to incoming minority students and establish a Black Student Center to foster community among black students. The university went on strike and classes were disrupted for more than a week. Students, faculty, and the community coming together to make change happen.
The lounges were constructed one after another with the input of the student communities and the university to provide students of color physical spaces on campus to come together and be. Each lounge is dedicated to activists of underrepresented communities, acknowledging the history of struggles and accomplishments.
I had only been to one, for the ‘relationship remix’ workshop as a first-year. Other than that, I would not have known that there were these spaces for students in my community. I had the opportunity to go on a tour and see the Afro-American Lounge, Yuri Kochiyama Lounge, Abeng lounge, and the Rosa Parks lounge. Each lounge had uniquely selected artwork and furniture designated for that lounge. And while they are intended to be welcoming spaces, they aren’t very welcoming to find or use.
During the school year, lounges are usually locked and reserved for the multicultural hall councils, student groups, and have a orientation process to use the lounges. Even with staff from housing showing me the lounges, they didn’t have access to open some of the lounges either. We called campus security to get into the Rosa Parks Lounge. We didn’t have access to the Afro-American Lounge. It also took us 20 minutes to find the Abeng lounge in the basement of East Quad with the help of no signs anywhere.
It’s a tough spot. The lounges are sacred spaces made possible because of the struggles and hard work of students before us and should be treated with such respect. The lounges are also spaces built for students to use, to find community, and to remember their history. However, it’s hard to do so when you don’t know about them or can’t get in them.