In an effort to increase inclusivity in University Residence Halls, the South Quad Residence Hall’s Afro-American Lounge is now open to all South Quad residents. Prior to this announcement, residents were required to take an orientation on the lounge’s history and rules associated with the multicultural lounge to gain access to the space.
The Afro-American Lounge was established in 1972 following the rise of the Black Action Movement at the University of Michigan. The murals in the lounge represent African-American history and celebrate African-American culture in a University setting. Before BAM pushed for the space, no other cultural organization had proposed a living space to meet and reflect on their shared experiences.
Before this decision, the Afro-American Lounge orientation involved an overview of the lounge’s history, the significance of the artwork featured and a summary of the safety rules included in the lounge. Effective immediately, all students in South Quad now have access to the lounge for studying.
Currently, there are 18 Multicultural and Minority Culture Lounges in University Residence Halls but only a few require an orientation to access the space.
In a release to South Quad residents, Hall Director Dan Green wrote the lounge should be a space to share ideas openly as a part of the tradition the lounges represent.
“Today the lounges are havens of support, solidarity, and sharing among residents,” Green wrote. “We encourage you to be a part of the amazing legacy of these lounges by collaborating with fellow residents, studying in the space, or participating in programs.”
Amir Baghdadchi, University Housing Public Relations spokesman, said not enough people were taking the orientation to gain access to the lounge, and without students using the space, the space was not accomplishing its mission.
“These spaces were always meant to be inclusive safe spaces,” Baghdadchi said. “Having more students being able to use them, to enjoy them, to interact with the art that’s in them, that can only be a good thing. It’s opening up access which is what the goal of inclusion is. We can’t make the space more inclusive by having fewer people use it.”
Rules for the lounge include leaving the room how you found it, not propping the door open and sharing the space so it’s open and collaborative. To make sure these rules are followed and collaborative space is maintained, according to Baghdadchi, Housing will create a new student position to look after the multicultural spaces and create new programming that will put emphasis on the character of the lounge. Baghdadchi also confirmed all Minority Lounges on campus that required an orientation will be open to residents.
LSA sophomore Adrianna Ackerman, Community Relations Chair of the Ambatana Multicultural Council in South Quad, said many of the topics covered in the orientation are currently expressed on paper posters in the room. She said the Council has been discussing the installation of plaques in the room to preserve the educational aspect of the orientation.
“We don’t want to ruin the significance of the lounge by having some of the history essentially torn down so hopefully by having something a little more meaningful than just a piece of paper on the wall, people will come in and look around like ‘This lounge is really nice, let’s keep it that way’ and hopefully they’ll utilize it as a good study resource and place to be on campus and overall an inclusive setting,” Ackerman said.
LSA sophomore Yoav Jacob took the orientation to use the Afro-American Lounge last year when he was a resident in South Quad. However, he said he didn’t take much away from the orientation besides a small history of the room’s significance and a large amount of rules about keeping the space clean. He said he wasn’t surprised the lounge was opened up to all residents without an orientation because many of the hall lounges were turned into quad rooms for the current school year, but he said he was worried more students will not respect the space.
“(South Quad residents) need more space for studying so that’s probably one of the reasons they got rid of (the orientation) requirement but at the same time, I think that’s probably going to have bad repercussions for the space itself because it did weed out a couple people who probably would trash the place,” Jacob said. “I hope that doesn’t happen but when you have a new (lounge) in a dorm that big, it might happen.”
LSA freshman Nimalan Murugan said he thinks the orientation should be reinstated because the values discussed through the motifs in the room require more respect and knowledge than a regular study room.
“There should have been at least an orientation process to at least come in because there is a lot of respect for what the lounge is,” Murugan said. “(Opening the lounge) does diminish the ability of using this place as more of a safe space and as a place to talk with others based on the values of this room.”
Baghdadchi said interacting with the lounges can occur organically by studying in the room and observing the murals and displays, not only through a mandated orientation.
“We’re very excited that we have these lounges,” Baghdadchi said. “We have truly incredible artifacts which are very powerful. To be in that space, you are already interacting with a culture and with another story and being able to open them up like this means more students will have that opportunity and that can only be a good thing.”