As part of University of Michigan Housing’s new commitment to redesign and update all 18 of the multicultural lounges on campus, Abeng Lounge in East Quad Residence Hall, Audre Lorde Lounge in Helen Newberry Residence Hall and Yuri Kochiyama Lounge in South Quad Residence Hall are set to be renovated this summer. The project, which launched in 2015 based on student feedback, is set to be completed in 2021, in time for the 50th anniversary of the Multicultural Lounge program. 

According to Amanda McLittle, director of diversity and inclusion, the renovation plan includes a redesign of the walls, furniture and technology of each space as well as structural improvements. These changes come at no additional cost to students or University Housing.

“One thing we’ve learned, if you want a space to look and work great not just for this generation of students but decades down the line, it’s wise to save and plan ahead, which is what we now do,” McLittle said. “It’s part and parcel of caring for these spaces.” 

One of the lounges set to be renovated this summer is Abeng Lounge, located in East Quad. It is named after the abeng musical instrument of the Akan people of Ghana, and it was created in 1971, making it the first multicultural lounge on campus. Besides the redesign, the lounge will move from the basement to the first floor, where it will be taking the place of the Madrigal Lounge. 

As current co-chairs of East Quad’s multicultural council, LSA freshmen Gabriella Dias and Janna Girotto are in Abeng Lounge often, both for council meetings and socializing. They said they hope the lounge’s relocation will bring more attention to the space. However, with the increased foot traffic, they said they had some worries the meaning of the space would be lost. 

“It’s not just a lounge area, it’s an area that is commemorating important history,” Dias said. “It’s meant to be the multicultural area, not just a place where there are couches.” 

In an effort to maintain the space’s historical significance, Girotto suggested that they place a plaque in the lounge’s original spot in the basement after they complete the renovation, similar to the current plaque in the lounge that defines abeng and talks about the heritage represented in the space.

“It will be nice to move us into a more modernized space but still keeping that history, and also moving us somewhere more accessible,” Girotto said. “I am definitely on board with that.”

LSA junior Mya Gibson is the Diversity Peer Educator for South Quad, where the Yuri Kochiyama Lounge is housed on the first floor. Due to its proximity to the front doors of South Quad and the dining hall, it is more used than the Abeng Lounge is in East Quad. Gibson said she believes the renovations will be more focused on aesthetic changes rather than functionality.

“(Yuri Kochiyama) is an incredible woman,” Gibson said. “She’s done a lot of work for Asian Americans, so there’s a lot of information that you can read on that. I hope they’re able to push that more because currently, it’s kind of put in the background. You don’t really notice it unless you’re looking for it, whereas other lounges such as the Afro American (Lounge) in the basement of South Quad, they have a lot of paintings and murals to celebrate and to discuss Afro American history, so I think that would be cool to see.”

In previous years, some of the multicultural lounges, such as the Afro American Lounge, have only been open to residents who completed an orientation about the lounge’s history and rules. Engineering sophomore Thomas Oscar, vice president of Residence Halls Association Executive, hoped the renovations would continue to bring safe spaces that are inclusive to all students. He added that opening up the spaces to all students makes them more accessible.

“If they don’t have knowledge of the room and its history, being in the room can allow them to get that knowledge,” Oscar said. “The fact that attention is being brought to them through renovations will allow people to come and learn about the purpose of those rooms and what they originally stood for.”

While the RHA has not yet been requested to give input on the spaces, Oscar said they would be open and willing to give their feedback.

“We find this to be an important moment of the University and the Housing’s history,” Oscar said. “I just hope that there can be a merger of functionality and usability while maintaining the history.”

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