New multicultural lounge celebrates Arab heritage

By Ian Dillingham, Statement Editor
Published February 26, 2015

Nearly one year ago, students from the UM Divest movement hung a sign on the door of Central Student Government chambers as part of a weeklong protest to occupy the room. The sign read “Edward Said Lounge” — homage to the prominent Palestinian-American literary theorist and academic, Edward Said. As the protests ended, the sign was removed.

Thursday night, at a dedication ceremony for the new Edward Said Lounge on the third floor of the North Quad Residence Hall, LSA senior Tala Dahbour, co-chair of Students Allied for Freedom and Equality, held back tears as she unrolled the sign once again.

“This sign was painted almost a year ago by Arab and Muslim students during a time when they felt very unsafe on this campus,” Dahbour said. “It’s a very proud moment to be here at a time when we don’t have to paint it on a piece of paper.”

While many racial and ethnic groups on campus have multicultural and minority-cultural lounges — including Alice Lloyd’s Vicky Barner Lounge honoring Native American communities and Bursley’s Martin Luther King, Jr. Lounge honoring the iconic civil rights leader — the Edward Said Lounge is the first dedicated to the Arab-American and Muslim communities on campus.

The establishment of a dedicated space for these students has been an ongoing point of contention, but the topic was brought to the forefront of conversation during the UM Divest protest. A February 2014 CSG petition — launched the month prior to the protest — called for the establishment of such a lounge in North Quad and received almost 500 signatures.

However, Engineering junior Flavio Fiszman, a diversity peer educator at North Quad, said the idea of an Arab-American themed lounge has been under consideration by the multicultural council for almost three years. Debate in the last year has focused on the name of the lounge.

“There was already a proposal and the proposal had been accepted (in February 2014),” Fiszman said. “What’s happening at that time was mostly about the name.”

The lounge’s namesake, Edward Said, is best known for his analyses of the representations of Arab and Muslim populations in literature and media. He wrote extensively on Arab and Muslim identities in the United States and the Middle East and was known for his academic perspective on politics, including advocating the “one-state solution” to the conflict between Israel and Palestine.

Said was a faculty member at Columbia University and received an honorary doctorate degree from the University of Michigan in 1998. He died in 2003.

Engineering sophomore Grant Groshek, co-chair of the North Quad Multicultural Council, said the council held a town hall meeting earlier this year for North Quad residents to address any concerns regarding the lounge’s name. After presenting information about Edward Said and gathering input, they gave residents the opportunity to vote online. In the end, Groshek said more than a quarter of the dorm voted in favor of the name, allowing the council to move forward with the dedication ceremony.

Fiszman said it was important to respect the desires of North Quad residents, especially those living on the third floor halls surrounding the lounge.

“The lounge is for the Arab-American community, but we mainly want it representing North Quad residents,” Fiszman said.

Fiszman added that access to the lounge will be restricted to North Quad residents who complete an educational program to learn about its history and cultural message.

While Dahbour said the lounge is a positive step for the University, she elaborated that it does not address many of the remaining concerns for Arab-American and Muslim students.

“There’s always a lot of work to be done around this issue,” she said. “We still live in a society that’s very much violent toward Arabs and Muslims.”

“I know this means a lot to myself as a student here and a lot to the Muslim and Arab students here,” she added. “It’s one step for sure, and I just hope that the University continues to work on it.”