Tucked away in a corner on the first floor of Hartley Hall, the Malcolm X Lounge might not be as crowded as Milstein Library or as grandiose as Low Rotunda, but, replete with its own rich history, it is the heart of and the safe space for many student organizations.
The story of the Malcolm X Lounge extends back in history to a time when it was an office for the Navy Reserve Officers Training Corps. According to the Columbia archives, the University decided to end its NROTC program in 1968, and the room soon sank into abandonment. On April 20, 1970, six months after the Student Afro-American Society called for the creation of a black students' space, several students occupied the empty NROTC office and renamed it the Malcolm X Liberation Center, according to Christien Tompkins, CC '08, historian for the Black Students Organization.
The motivation for this move stemmed from the general attitude during the time period. "In a very broad sense, the whole country had a lot of racial tension," Tompkins said, adding that the students wanted the lounge to be an on-campus community center for black students. The Hartley management body voted to give them the lounge. In the face of the controversy of the students' actions, "A lot of black faculty and staff signed a statement saying not only should they be given a lounge, but they shouldn't be punished," Tompkins said.
When not being used, the lounge is locked, and it is not open to unregistered events. Its white walls are decorated with paintings and ornaments, such as a copy of Sherman Edward's painting My Child, My Child, in which a mother in a purple shawl clutches her unclothed baby close to her chest. A decorative pole for mashing Fufu-a West African dish commonly made from yams-resides in a corner.
On the opposite wall are two pictures of Malcolm X. One shows the black leader, his lips tightly pursed, raising his right index finger with conviction with a quotation reading, "We declare our right on this Earth ... to be a human being, to be respected as a human being, to be given the rights of a human being in this society, on this earth, in this day, which we intend to bring into existence by any means necessary."
Over the years, the lounge has become the meeting place of BSO, the successor of SAAS, which shares the space with student groups such as the African Students Association and Caribbean Students Association.
Today, the ideals that sparked the renaming of the old ROTC office nearly 40 years ago in order to maintain a safe space live on. "We wanted to create a space and opportunity for students to feel safe to express themselves," Tanya Lindsay, CC '07 and president of the BSO, said.
Although the lounge is named after a controversial figure, Mark Attiah, CC '09 and secretary of BSO, said that the name shouldn't be associated with negative values. "If you think this name means hatred," he said, "you need to come to a G-body [General Body] meeting."