After the grade-in on Thursday, a number of graduate students staged a sleepover at Stephens Lounge to protest the closure of the space. For more information read the article in the Berkeley Graduate, or the press release below:
Graduate Students Hold Sleepover in Contested Stephens Workspace
Students protesting the closure of beloved workspace stage a sleepover calling on the UC to uphold quality study and workspace on campus
On Thursday, May 15th more than 20 students gathered in Stephens Hall’s Graduate Student Lounge and stayed through the night in solidarity with the threatened campus work space. The “sleepover” culminated weeks of actions to halt the permanent closure after UC Dean Andrew Szeri announced that the 90-year old room would on May 16th close its doors forever as a study space. The sleepover celebrated the campus administration’s concession to postpone the closure of Stephens Lounge by another 6 months, but also advanced student demands that the administration keep the space open until a substitute is found.
Students spent the night grading exams, writing papers, reading and discussing ongoing struggles by students and other campus and community groups. The sleepover followed a day-long “grade-in” sponsored by the student-worker’s union (UAW Local 2865) that included coalition building between Stephens defenders, student-workers, other UC labor unions, organizers with Gill Tract Farm preservation, and University Village residents fighting for fair family housing.
Some students brought sleeping bags and air mattresses to rest in the beloved space, while others worked into the early morning together. Students made clear that the stakes of the action were more than room’s unique features—high ceilings, Victorian charm, and access coffee and food. The student-run space is an important workplace resource for graduate students on an overcrowded campus with highly unequal access to space across departments.
“Graduate students work long hours just like anyone else. They need a place that provides basics of any workplace, like the ability to eat.” said Sarah Cowan, a graduate student in the History of Art Department. “The Stephens Lounge is the only place on campus that does.”
In proposing to close the Lounge unilaterally and without transparency, the UC administration claimed the space was underutilized, and also cited its inaccessibility to students with disabilities. Defenders of the space confirmed that dozens of graduate student visitors each day, and that more than 640 UC students, faculty, staff and alumni had signed a petition demanding it not be closed. Those demands have been endorsed by the UAW and UC Berkeley’s graduate student government. Moreover, sleepover attendees agreed that if UC is committed to inclusive education, it is the administration’s obligation to make the space accessible to all graduate students or to find an adequate alternative that is.
“I value the space for so many reasons, like getting to work alongside colleagues in other departments,” says Margaret Mary Downey, a graduate student in the School of Social Welfare. I think it sets a dangerous precedent for the administration to act without student input on issues like this that directly impact our working and learning conditions.”
The threat to the Stephens Lounge represents a trend at UC Berkeley and other public institutions to restrict and privatize access to cherished, well-used spaces. Students trying to save Stephens Lounge planned to organize in the coming months in conjunction with the UAW’s struggle to gain respect for student labor, the work of Students for Engaged and Active Learning (SEAL) to protect the Gill Tract public farm land from privatization at the expense of the health and wellness of student families and their children, and the University Village families fighting for fair housing rights and affordability.