One day after Michigan voters approved a ban on race- and gender-based affirmative action in 2006, University President Mary Sue Coleman addressed the University community, proclaiming, “diversity matters at Michigan.”

She went on, “If November 7th was the day that Proposal 2 passed, then November 8th is the day we pledge to remain unified in our fight for diversity. Together, we must continue to make this world-class university one that reflects the richness of the world.”

But in spite of such proclamations, the University sometimes proves to be an unwelcoming place for students of color. Space, specifically a central location in which members of minority populations can gather, is necessary for not only the empowerment of individuals, but also empowerment of such communities as a whole. The preservation of a safe space in which students of color are encouraged to meet and foster their individual identities and values is crucial to creating a campus climate where diversity is a lived reality and not simply an abstract concept or cliché dictum.

University Housing has recently decided to enforce its policy of limiting the number of times per academic term and year for which an individual or organization can use a residence hall lounge. While this policy applies to all residence hall lounges, it has the greatest impact on minority-cultural and multicultural lounges and the student organizations that have historic ties to those rooms.

For nearly a decade, the United Asian American Organizations has had unrestricted use of the Yuri Kochiyama Lounge in South Quad. Named after Japanese-American civil rights activist Yuri Kochiyama, the space is one of the few on campus dedicated to the Asian Pacific Islander American community and its activism. While Markley Hall is home to the Arati Sharangpani Lounge, named in honor of a former South Asian University student killed in a plane crash, the Yuri Kochiyama Lounge is the only space centrally located on campus.

While it is within University policy to regulate use of residence hall space, it is also stated University policy to “create and sustain diverse learning-centered residence communities.” It is crucial that UAAO and other organizations like it have unrestricted access to these lounges in their efforts to unite and empower their communities. Furthermore, we want to embody and carry on the historical current left by Kochiyama’s legacy of engaging in activism and promoting diversity.

After Michigan’s affirmative action ban passed, the relationships between minority students, faculty and staff and the overall campus community have been tenuous. To deny Asian Pacific Islander American students unrestricted space use perpetuates the University’s refusal to acknowledge the needs of students of color and directly contradicts Coleman’s claim that “diversity matters.” While other facilities are dedicated to Asian Pacific Islander Americans, none are as centrally located as the Yuri Kochiyama Lounge. The importance of a centrally located space cannot be understated, as it shows a true commitment to putting diversity first.

Limiting access to the Yuri Kochiyama Lounge is not only detrimental to the success of UAAO as a student organization, it is also detrimental to the diversity at the University. Just as the Yuri Kochiyama Lounge is not the only place where this policy is being enforced, ours is not the only community being affected. We stand in solidarity with other groups whose space use is also being restricted. Just as Yuri Kochiyama organized across community lines, we will not consider this issue closed until all groups with long-standing connections to campus spaces have their unrestricted access restored.

This viewpoint was written on behalf of the executive board of the United Asian American Organizations.

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