Professor Challenges Women-Only Student Lounge in Michigan

(Photo: Wikimedia, Creative Commons)

(Photo: Wikimedia, Creative Commons)

A professor at the University of Michigan has filed a formal complaint against Michigan State University, where he also teaches, alleging that the female-only study lounge at the school is discriminatory against men.

Economics professor Mark Perry teaches at UM’s Flint campus, where he is a “Faculty Affiliate of the Women’s and Gender Studies Program.”  The complaint was filed with the Michigan Department of Civil Rights because men are not allowed to enter a lounge reserved for women at Michigan State, which Perry said is a violation of Title IX, the federal law prohibiting discrimination on the basis of sex at any federally funded education program or activity.

“I believe that MSU’s practice of allowing and maintaining a Women’s-Only lounge is a blatant violation of male students’ civil rights, and has only been allowed to persist because nobody has challenged them on their legal public space that excludes men,” Perry said.

He added that the issue surrounding the lounge is a double-standard, as he said it would be unacceptable to open a lounge on campus for only men, writes Marlo Safi for Campus Reform.

Perry referred to the lounge, which is just under half the size of the main lounge at the school, as “prime real estate.”  Both men and women are allowed in the main lounge.

The professor went on to say that the lounge violates the Michigan Civil Rights Initiative.  Introduced in 2006 as an amendment to the constitution, the initiative says that no public colleges and universities, including Michigan State University, or community colleges or school districts, “shall not discriminate against, or grant preferential treatment to, any individual or group on the basis of race, sex, color, ethnicity or national origin.”

Despite this, Perry does not believe his complaint will see any results, as the lounge, which has been open since 1925, has been challenged several times with no change being made.

A complaint was filed in 1978 by history and economics senior Bruce Guthrie after he had been asked to leave the lounge.  The complaint was dismissed by the Michigan Civil Rights Commission in Detroit in 1980.

While MSU crisis communications manager Jason Cody said that the university was unaware of the complaint made by Perry, he added that the school is continually evaluating facilities and programs at the school in order to ensure that all students have access.

Cody added that plans were in the works to update the study space, which were set to be completed in August 2016.  He said the plans include a lactation area as well as quiet study space that will be available to all students.

In response, Perry suggested that the school already has over 70 lactation rooms on campus and may not need another.

Not all students are happy with the plans to change the lounge into a gender-neutral space, arguing that the lounge was a “safe place” where women could go to avoid male hostility:

“If I felt like I was being harassed or scared, I could go there and I would be safe,” said Elizabeth Dziedzic, a sophomore who visited the lounge about once a week during her freshman year.  “Women need a safe place to go, and sometimes dorms aren’t even the safest place.”

Students are hoping that the university will reverse its decision, with nearly 5,300 students and supporters having signed an online petition on Change.org in the hopes of pushing the lounge to remain a female-only space.