We Stand With Taking Back the Women’s Study Lounge

On Wednesday, August 31, senior Alyse Maksimowski arrived at the Union to participate in a sit-in that she’d organized, in an effort to take back the women’s study lounge.  

As of early August, the lounge had been converted from a safe space for women to feel secure studying, waiting for rides, or resting, into a unisex lounge. Until the Union’s closing time, women sat in the lounge and voiced their complaints on a message board, expressing their anger and disappointment in the actions taken by the university.

“As a queer woman of color, I came to the women’s study lounge to escape unwanted racialized sexual advances from straight men that didn’t respect my autonomy,” one message read.

Others wrote about being able to feel safe from their assaulters and finally relax in the lounge, and some appreciated having a space where they could study without being interrupted by unwanted male attention.

In the evening, Maksimowski brought the message board outside and read every message to a crowd gathered on the steps of the Union. Speakers stepped forward to share articles about the oppression of women and share personal stories and poetry.

Between hearing the voices of sexual assault survivors devastated by the university’s decision and seeing the tears in the eyes of listeners, it seemed impossible that someone could have deemed the women’s lounge unnecessary.

“If they have organizations empowering women, why can’t they have a space for us. Isn’t accessibility important?” graduate student Fatima din Lessing said at the sit-in. “It’s not empowering; it’s absurd. It feels like they care less and less about the student body.”

The change was enacted based on complaints that the existence of the women’s study lounge was discriminatory towards men. Mark Perry, a professor at the University of Michigan-Flint, even filed a civil rights complaint against MSU, stating that the school owed “an apology to the thousands of men whose civil rights have been violated.”

Given that Perry doesn’t even teach at MSU, he probably doesn’t realize that there was a men’s lounge until the 1940’s, when student’s voted to eliminate it, but keep the women’s lounge which they felt was still important and necessary. Somehow it has become a violation that men don’t have this space by their historical volition, but not that women lost their lounge without being given a voice.

In further response to complaints about the “discriminatory” women’s lounge, MSU has also disbanded the Women’s Resource Center, which used education to enable women to achieve success despite their marginalization.

“They’re pushing women’s issues under the rug and pretending to be progressive,” said Maksimowski, “but they’re not providing equitable resources and are dismissing the experiences of women and the needs of women that do require equitable treatment.”

Supporters of taking back the women’s study lounge assured fellow protesters that the study lounge was within the guidelines of Title IX regulations, which requires no person to be “excluded from participation in, denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity…” on account of their gender. Title IX does not prohibit single-sex classes, programs or facilities and because men are still given equal resources and opportunities, they already have access to a larger unisex study lounge across the hall from the former women’s lounge.

The reason men don’t have a space is not to discriminate against them. Rather, it acknowledges that men don’t face gender discrimination, and therefore, don’t require the same resources as marginalized groups.

According to the National Sex and Violence Resource Center, 1-in-every-5 women are sexually assaulted in college, as opposed to 1-in-16 men. Women also face greater obstacles advancing in the workplace and avoiding unwanted attention from men. The existence of a safe place for women is not only fair, it is vital to the comfort and success of many.

For those that agree that the actions taken against the women’s study lounge are unjust, there is a petition online that will be delivered to President Simon, demanding the reinstatement of the lounge and other women’s resources. Anyone who believes in equal rights for women is encouraged to sign.

“By taking away the space for women and making it co-ed, they take away resources from women,” Maksimowski said. “By claiming women don’t need safe spaces where they can pray, sleep, study and be safe from any kind of attack or attacker, it dismisses the narratives, stories and experiences (of women).”