Editor’s note: This story is the third in a series exploring race, racism and diversity on the UT campus.
Walk into the Malcolm X Lounge any given day to find a heated discussion, a study session, an organizational meeting or a prayer group.
Some say a peek between the alabaster blinds lining the room provides a look at the makeup of University’s black community.
“I would say it’s ‘our space’ because we can talk about what we want to talk about,” said former UT student Chas Moore, who visits the lounge for at least two to three hours each week. “We can have events in there, play dominos or cards — it’s the black spot on campus.”
At UT there are many organizations centered on cultural interests, Moore said, and the X Lounge is the place where black students can come and be around people from the black community. People who identify as black are the ones who most frequent the lounge, Moore said, and those who do not will often stare at the lounge but not come in.
The lounge first opened in 1995 on the ground floor of the Jester Center after black students pushed to create an area for their community on campus after the University closed their unofficial meeting space. Black students petitioned former UT President Robert Berdahl for a new area where black students could gather and were approved for the space. Today, the X Lounge is run entirely by students and provides a space for organizations to hold meetings and events, student study sessions and storage, among others. It is open for reservation by all students.
Choquette Hamilton, associate director for development of African-American diaspora studies, said the lounge was always intended to be an area for the black community but is open to all. Hamilton said there have been many points in time where black students did not feel safe on campus, both physically and in terms of respect for their culture.
“If you’re a black student and you’re in a classroom filled with people who don’t look like you and may possibly say things that are offensive, it’s frustrating going through that day in and day out,” Hamilton said. “[In the X Lounge] people don’t have to worry about dealing with those things because the people that hang out in that space relate to your experiences.”
Hamilton said even today many black students do not feel welcome in all parts of campus, and while there are often many organizations tabling on West Mall, it is rare to see black organizations there. She also said some black students do not feel welcome in the South Mall, which contains statues of former U.S. leaders known for spreading racist ideas.
Carissa Kelley, Student Events Center president, said she does not go to the lounge much and spends most of her time in the Texas Union. She said most black students have gone to the lounge at least once and those who do not go are probably disconnected from the black community. Kelley said if people are absent for a while, many in the lounge will begin asking questions.
“People expect for all black organizations on campus to table there, put their fliers there and put their face there because that is how you show you’re involved in the community,” Kelley said. “If you’re not there, you’re not [involved].”
Ethnic studies sophomore Jarius Sowells said he visits the X Lounge about three times a day for 30 to 40 minutes at a time. Sowells agreed with Moore that there is a stereotype that only black students can go into the X Lounge. Sowells said the majority of non-black people that go in the lounge do so to use the microwave and often do not interact with black students there. He said there is often conversation in the lounge on how to break down that stereotype, comparing it to the assumption that only white people go to the Roundup philanthrophy event.
“The X Lounge situation is indeed the counter opposite to the Roundup situation,” Sowells said. “I was encouraged by my black brothers not to go [to Roundup], but I went because I wanted to experience it for myself.”
Brenda Burt, a UT diversity and community engagement officer, said she has worked as an adviser for students who frequent the X Lounge since it officially opened. Her office is in the John Warfield Center for African and African American Studies located above the lounge on the second floor.
“If I want to know what the hot topics are I will just go in there,” Burt said, adding that recent topics have included the Trayvon Martin case and a controversial Daily Texan editorial cartoon about the shooting. “That’s their space and it’s not for an adult to be in there. There are times they’ll come and get me if they want my input.”
Burt said if a student who is not black tried to visit the lounge, no one would stop them, and that she recommends the lounge to new black students.
Mauricio De Leon, a human development and family sciences junior, said he identifies as Latino and first went into the X Lounge during summer orientation. At the time, he said the lounge was filled with Latinos and he did not realize the lounge was normally frequented by black students. De Leon said he disagrees with the notion that only black people go into the X Lounge and has seen people from other races visit.
“I don’t think there are racial barriers,” said De Leon, who visits the lounge at least once a week. “It’s just people choose not to go in there. Everyone is welcome to go in and people are welcoming when you go, it’s just whether they want to or not.”
Printed on Friday, April 27, 2012 as: Malcolm X Lounge offers safe haven to students of all races