I observed Cheney Room on Monday afternoon. The Margaret Cheney Room was made in 1884 to provide a safe space for women. Access is granted to any self-identified women and non-binary individuals who asks.
Despite the importance of gender in the motivation for founding of Cheney Room, the space itself does not have strong gender identity. There is a board of posters for events publicizing and available resources, but otherwise Cheney Room looks like any other lounge. The furnitures aren’t stereotypically feminine in terms of color and decoration. Overall dark neutral colors are used and room is dimly lit. There usually isn’t an active conversation going on, and most students are studying on their own or taking a short nap.
Still, students who stop by the lounge behaves differently from students I’ve seen in other lounges. Usually each student takes up a long couch, and spreads out their backpack, water bottle, notebooks, and laptop. Essential and valuable items such as phone, student id, laptop were more spaced out than they tend to be in other lounges or common spaces, which seemed to indicate students felt safer and felt like they had more space under control. About a third of student had their shoes off and most were in a laid back position.
Students didn’t look up when the door opened, even though it made a loud sound. This seemed partly due to the fact that they weren’t expecting anyone related to them (ex. there were no meetings or group projects happening) and were all focusing on themselves and partly because there is a baseline understanding that everyone entering the room is someone who knows what the space is for and agrees to its purposes and rules. In this sense, Cheney Room served not as a safe space for women, but a safe space for being alone and away from public. Even though it was a common space, it was almost like each person was in their own compartment where they can be in whatever state is comfortable for them.