At its founding, the Michigan Union was envisioned as a space for the campus community to relax, reflect, study, socialize, and, above all, come together. While the Union has not always lived up to its inclusive ideals—women have been allowed through the building’s front doors only since 1954—it has played host to more than a century of history. Its incomplete structure served as a barracks during World War I. It hosted protests against the Vietnam War and informal student discussions with Martin Luther King Jr. And, as any graduate knows, then-U.S. Sen. John F. Kennedy defined the Peace Corps on the Union’s steps in 1960.
Affectionately known as Michigan’s “living room,” the Union’s 1919 building has also seen numerous updates and additions over the years. Few, however, were as dramatic as the most recent overhaul, which closed it for 20 months and completely transformed many of the building’s signature spaces, while restoring others to their former glory. This $86.6 million reimagining was years in the making, and it involved a full cross-section of the University, including staff, faculty, students, and alumni. Students themselves initiated the campaign in 2013 to modernize the Union, forming a group called Building a Better Michigan to advise on the project.
“It’s awesome seeing it come to fruition,” says senior Gwendolyn Wibbelman, who got involved as a freshman in 2016, following the lead of her older sister, Anna, ’17. With newly designed, flexible spaces for student organizations to strategize and cozy nooks for curling up with a coffee or some linear algebra homework, the Michigan Union will still be the heart of campus for years to come, says Wibbelman, now the student advisory group’s co-president. “I hope that alumni come and see all of our hard work—and find their own personal favorite spots.”