Graduate student lounge closure causes unrest

Michael Ball/File
Michael Ball/Staff
Michael Ball/File

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On March 31, UC Berkeley graduate students received an email from Dean of the Graduate Division Andrew Szeri stating that the Stephens Hall Graduate Student Lounge, which has been in operation for more than 90 years, will close May 16.

The email cited underutilization of the space and insufficient ADA accessibility as reasons for the space’s closure. Many graduate students have opposed the decision, creating a petition and insisting the decision should not have been made without student input.

“Students need to be involved in the decision-making process to allow us to incorporate our input into the decision and give people notice before decisions are irreversible,” said Max Gee, president of the UC Berkeley Graduate Assembly. “The decision was (Szeri’s), and it’s his space to control, but we would like to be included in the process.”

Located at 440 Stephens Hall, the wood-paneled room is reserved exclusively for use by UC Berkeley graduate students and staff. The space, filled with natural light, is equipped with numerous study areas, and coffee and cookies are available for purchase.

Denise van der Kamp, a graduate student in the political science department, has used the lounge for the past three years. She believes the space is valuable not only because of its accommodations, but also because it allows graduate students to have a communal space on campus.

“This space brings together graduate students from all different departments, which is something that doesn’t happen anywhere else on campus,” van der Kamp said, adding that she was “horrified” when she heard of the lounge’s closing.

On April 17, the UC Berkeley Student-Workers Union voted to actively oppose the decision, asking students to voice their concerns directly to the administration.

Earlier this month, students launched a petition outlining several major complaints that has garnered about 400 signatures. Students dispute the claim that the space is underutilized, as visitor data collected by Stephens Hall staff show that between 20 and 50 students use the space each day. Additionally, students insist no other spaces on campus are comparable in terms of size, amenities and purpose and condemn the administration’s failure to consult students.

While students claim there are no comparable spaces on campus, Szeri insists existing spaces — such as Graduate Student Services and the Dissertation Writing Room in Doe Library — are perfectly suitable spaces. Additionally, in the 2014-15 academic year, the Graduate Division will repurpose a room in Sproul Hall as a “meeting and resource space,” Szeri said.

Szeri added that as the space will no longer be under the purview of the graduate division, he could not comment on its future uses.

“I realize that students who have enjoyed the amenities of the Lounge are unhappy at the loss of certain conveniences,” Szeri said. “I am sympathetic to their concerns and will work to address them as I can.”

Matty Lichtenstein, a doctoral student in the sociology department, says the issue is symbolic and highlights the struggle for students to be treated as active players in the university.

“It has been a fight for a sense of community in scholarship,” said Alex Roehrkasse, a graduate student in the sociology department. “I think if the space were repurposed without an adequate substitute, graduate students would suffer.”

Contact Michelle Pitcher at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter @michellepitcher.

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  • Saisyet

    The lounge looks beautiful in the picture.

  • sheldonross

    Whoa, whoa! Wait a minute. Only now they (i.e. this Szeri fellow) realizes the lounge has “… insufficient ADA accessibility”?
    After 90 years, no problems, complaints, or issues, and all the sudden someone wants to up and change things without sufficient and necessary reason(s).
    What is the _real_ reason for the closure — “repurposing” of the room? What are they going to do, give the space over to Starbucks and charge rent?

  • Peggy Droesch

    What a lovely space, but if it’s underutilized that might be b/c it isn’t very well promoted – I did my Master’s at Cal in the ’80s & had no idea this was even in existence. Crappy way to find out, too.

  • AnOski

    >While students claim there are no comparable spaces on campus, Szeri insists existing spaces — such as Graduate Student Services and the Dissertation Writing Room in Doe Library — are perfectly suitable spaces.

    Students: “This place is awesome; there’s nothing like it.” Andrew Szeri’s response: “These other places are ‘suitable’ for you.” Bit of a disconnect there. Shame this Andrew fellow doesn’t understand that having a cozy spot for folks who share your interests is much nicer than the prospect of resorting to any of the other ‘sufficient’ open areas on campus. Which, granted, are “suitable” for many purposes. It doesn’t change the fact that the administration is trying to take something rather nice away from the students and brushing it off without even addressing their complaint.

    I thought Berkeley was trying to keep pace with the better-endowed private schools around. You don’t do that by getting rid of one of the few nicer aspects of graduate student life.

    • werd814

      “I thought Berkeley was trying to keep pace with the better-endowed private schools around. You don’t do that by getting rid of one of the few nicer aspects of graduate student life.”

      Here, here!

      • AnOski

        *Hear, hear ; )

  • justanotherstudent

    Is this a joke? I can’t believe this happened without any consultation with the students. Graduate students are valuable resources for the school, too. Classes would not be able to run without them. The school really screwed up on this one.

  • This happens while ASUC is busy debating Israeli politics. Why can’t our student leaders try to exert any pressure on our own university before we get involved in intra-national conflicts? Wait, it’s because of antics like Napolitano (watch the video on BearFeed, it’s really revealing about CalSERVE) that administration cannot take us seriously at all.