Wednesday, August 5, 2020

MSU closes Women's Lounge and resource center in compliance with Title IX, students fight back

August 3, 2016
The outside of the Union's Women's Lounge on July 18, 2016 in the MSU Union. The lounge is scheduled to reopen in August.
The outside of the Union's Women's Lounge on July 18, 2016 in the MSU Union. The lounge is scheduled to reopen in August. —
Photo by Emilia McConnell | The State News

The news of MSU closing the women’s study lounge in the Union and reopening it as an all-gender study lounge has many students upset and wondering “why?” and most importantly, “why now?” According to MSU spokesman Jason Cody, there were several factors that contributed to the decision of closing the lounge.

Complaints and Title IX

“There were concerns expressed previously, both on campus and from individuals, such as, Mr. Perry,” Cody said.

UM-Flint Professor Mark Perry filed a civil rights complaint against MSU on July 7 regarding the women’s-only study lounge, which is what brought the issue to light.

“As those concerns were expressed, and our Title IX office continued to look at the situation over the past year or so, we also had our General Counsel take another look from a legal standpoint, specifically in light of Title IX,” Cody said.

All of those discussions culminated in the decision to convert the women’s study lounge to an all-gender study lounge.

MSU was under investigation in September 2015 on behalf of the U.S. Office of Civil Rights (OCR) declaring MSU took too long to handle sexual assault and harassment cases on campus. An MSU counselor sexually harassed students who were their getting help due to being sexually harassed. However, the same MSU counselor was allowed to keep their job four more years after the fact.

As a result of these sexual assault accusations, MSU’s Title IX policy was under investigation. According to www.justice.gov., Title IX is a comprehensive federal law that prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex in any federal funded education program or activity.

After the investigation on MSU misconduct on sexual assault and harassment cases, MSU made revisions to MSU’s Relationship Violence and Sexual Misconduct Policy.

“The Office for Civil Rights and the resolution agreement spells out the actions that MSU must take to address the areas of noncompliance,” U.S. Department of Education’s Jim Bradshaw said.

Students respond

Following Perry’s complaint, the news of the closing of the women’s lounge swept across campus and struck a chord with students who attend MSU, so much that they have started a petition on change.org titled “Allowing women on Michigan State’s campus to have a safe lounge to study in.” It is petitioning President Lou Anna K. Simon, Cody, MSU, the Union and MSU Provost and Executive Vice President of Academic Affairs June Youatt.

MSU sophomore Alyssa Maturen orchestrated the petition to fight for women’s rights at MSU.

“I was eating dinner with some friends when one of them asked if I had heard about the closure,” Maturen said. “They then read to me an article explaining about the complaint filed by Mark Perry and I became deeply upset.”

More than 5,000 supporters have signed the petition, as of Aug. 2, to help keep the women’s-only study lounge in the Union. Maturen hopes MSU administration will hear her and all 5,000 supporters’ concerns and will be willing to work out a better solution.

“We decided to start the petition because this is a cause that matters,” Maturen said. “The Woman’s Study Lounge is a space that matters.”

In addition, there are also nearly 450 people who will be attending a Facebook event, “Take Back The Women’s Study Lounge,” on Wednesday, Aug. 31 at 9 a.m. until 4 p.m. at the MSU Union. The event is a sit-in protest to take back the women’s lounge and is inclusive to women of all identities. The Facebook page says to feel free to make signs, chants, poetry, narratives, letters, and songs.

“As a female student here on campus, this lounge was essential to my success my freshman year,” Maturen said. “It was the one place I felt I could go and truly relax, not to mention I was able to focus way better when among fellow women as I was not being approached by male students.”

Cody said he is well aware of the petition and the attention surrounding the closing of the women’s lounge, however despite the spirit of the supporters to keep the women’s study lounge alive, the space is still being renovated.

“While we respect the views of those who signed it, the decision to convert the space is moving forward,” Cody said.

It’s more than the lounge

It’s important to note that the women’s study lounge isn’t the only women’s-only facility that has been removed from MSU recently. As of May 24 the Women’s Resource Center (WRC) has been disbanded and moved.

The WRC provided educational programs, workshops and conferences focused on topics including gender equity and leadership/professional development, and it implemented “strategies that promote the status of women by providing a supportive climate that enables all to become full and active participants in the development of policy, decision making and the achievement of equity,” according to its website.

Also according to its website, having a WRC is important because “despite many gains having been won over the past several decades, gender equity is not a reality is many respects.

“Whether we are thinking about the wage gap between men and women, higher instances of sexual assault and sexual violence committed against women than men, discrimination faced by transgender and gender non-conforming individuals, or disproportionate disadvantages based on race, ethnicity, socioeconomic status, religious affiliation, educational level, ability, sexual orientation and gender identity and expression, we still live in a society that perpetuates stereotypes and prejudice.”

The WRC was once located in the MSU Union, but it now incorporated with the WorkLife Office in Linton Hall.

“Our services are inclusive of all faculty and staff, which certainly includes women,” WorkLife Executive Director Barbara Robert said.

Lydia Weiss, WorkLife educational coordinator and former interim director of WRC, said she was disappointed in light of the closing of the women’s study lounge.

“I know many women felt that the space was a respite for them to focus on their studies,” Weiss said. “As an alumni of Michigan State University, I am sad to see this historical space changed in this way.”

The issues women face in regards to safety, accessibility to resources and climate concerns are still very real for many women at MSU, particularly women of color and transgender women who face even higher rates of violence and discrimination than cisgender white women.

MSU Students United was unavailable to comment on the matter.

Looking forward

The MSU administration may have shut down the women’s study lounge and WRC, but they have only turned up the voices of MSU students who are also wondering “what’s next on the list?” Students fear that MSU’s two women’s-only residence halls, Yakeley and Van Hoosen, and the Women’s Wing at Olin Health Center could be in danger of being closed and reopened to accommodate all genders as well.

Check back at statenews.com for further updates on the closing of women’s study lounge and other women-only resources or facilities.

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