Three multicultural lounges in University of Michigan residence halls will reopen this fall following the conclusion of recent renovations.
The Abeng Multicultural Lounge in East Quad reopened on Sept. 13. The Edward Said Multicultural Lounge in North Quad and the Yuri Kochiyama Multicultural Lounge in South Quad will open on Oct. 12 and Nov. 15, respectively.
The lounge reopenings this fall are part of the Multicultural Lounge Program, which consists of 18 lounges in total, all housed within U-M residence halls. The program was first created by U-M alum Dr. Harvey Slaughter in the 1970s, and the program celebrated its 50th anniversary last year.
Jeannene Jones-Rupert, assistant director for diversity and inclusion at Michigan Housing, said the University’s multicultural lounge program is the only one in the country that exists within college residence halls. Jones-Rupert said the program was inspired by the Black Action Movement, a student-led initiative in the 1970s that advocated for an increase in Black student enrollment and better supported community spaces for activism work.
“These were spaces that were seen as hubs of connection, support, for socializing, for having programming, for coming together to talk about the advocacy work that (students) were doing on campus through their student activism work,” Jones-Rupert said. “The spaces were created out of a need for a place for culture and community and connection when there weren’t those kinds of spaces on campus.”
Jones-Rupert said students were involved in the process of renovating the lounges, specifically for the decoration processes. Many student organizations who frequently use the spaces were reached out to for feedback about the new graphics on the walls, and were asked how the storytelling could be improved upon within the lounges, Jones-Rupert added.
The Abeng Multicultural Lounge was the first lounge established in 1971. At the reopening event in September, renovations and new artwork were unveiled in the space. A poem by Byron D. Brooks, a second year graduate student in the schools of Education and Social Work, is now featured in the lounge.
“My poem, entitled ‘I Am’, is a piece that intersects liberation, resiliency and my own personal story as a Black man within America,” Brooks told The Michigan Daily. “I was born in prison and raised by my great grandparents. When I started community college I was actually homeless. And now I am an activist, scholar and social entrepreneur.”
Brooks said he felt moved by the Abeng Lounge reopening event and was inspired by the community’s reception of his work, adding that he is thankful to know his story has a physical home at the University.
“I was able to share the poem and meet individuals, and hearing how they felt inspired by my poem both reignited a fire within myself and showed me that my voice and the things that I’m doing are part of my purpose, and I’m doing what I should be,” Brooks said. “I just look forward to knowing that my legacy has been etched within the University’s history.”
Diversity Peer Educators (DPEs) in each residence hall utilize the multicultural lounges for events throughout the year. LSA junior Sarah Oguntomilade is a DPE in North Quad, where the Edward Said Lounge will open in October. She said North Quad has lacked a multicultural lounge for over a year while renovations took place, and she is excited to be able to use the updated Edward Said Lounge soon.
“(DPEs) find ways to honor the legacy of either the group or the person that the room is dedicated to,” Oguntomilade said. “It’s a way of educating people in a way that they don’t even know they’re being educated.”
LSA senior Emma Mendez works as a DPE in Mary Markley Residence Hall, home to the Angela Davis Minority Lounge and the Arati Sharangpani Memorial Lounge. Mendez said the spaces are important for the recognition of multicultural groups on campus.
“It’s a sense of community and comfort and safety for students who don’t necessarily feel that on campus due to the lack of representation of their social identities,” Mendez said. “I do think that they’re very important and they stand for a lot of amazing things that happened in our history. Especially here at Michigan where it’s a predominantly white university, it’s very hard to feel that sense of celebration of diversity. I think the lounges do a great job doing so.”
Daily Staff Reporter Carlin Pendell can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.