Going to the restroom on campus requires a choice: female or male?
Over the last two years, students have pushed to increase the number of equal access restrooms--restrooms that aren’t gender specific. Now, we’re in the middle of another school year. Where did the movement for equal access restrooms leave off last year? What’s it going to take to get it going again this year?
The goal of adding equal access restrooms was to create safe places across campus where students could use the restroom without making a public statement about their gender or physical ability.
“Equal access bathrooms would provide not having to feel like you are betraying yourself by ‘picking’ a gendered bathroom that doesn’t match your gender identity, and not having to worry about the reaction of the people in the bathroom,” said Ramsey Campbell, a student who identifies as gender queer. Campbell is a senior and American Cultural studies major.
“Plus using a gendered bathroom without complaining and making a fuss about it just reinforces the gender dichotomy in contemporary American society.”
Kyle Fowler, Assistant Coordinator of the Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender Alliance, said “for a lot of students on campus, it is something that can mean a world of difference.”
The last development was from the 2005-2006 school year. Associated Students President Mark Iozzi recalls the last development was a discussion with the student senate.
“My general sense was that most student leaders were in favor of it,” Iozzi said, “but that there were concerns with logistics from administrators about cost and how it would be perceived by the larger campus community.”
If equal access restrooms were to create a safe space for students to go to the bathroom, one practical question was to ensure they were set up as physically safe facilities.
Ted Pratt, Dean of Students, recalls that he and his colleagues Jim Schuster, Director of Viking Union Facilities, and Kevin Majkut, Director of Viking Union Student Activities, attended the student senate meeting ready to change the signs outside of single-stall restrooms and possibly convert the men’s restroom on the fifth floor of the Viking Union.
“We thought, ‘Okay, let’s go to the senate meeting and maybe we’ll find out some new things.’ Questions decided to come up: well, gosh, if we locked those doors, and what if we locked a person in there in an unsafe situation?” said Pratt.
Schuster, director of VU facilities, discussed that student safety had to be considered in the logistics of converting restrooms.
“If there is a single restroom with a lockable door, someone could go in there and lock the door and be perfectly safe. That would be the ideal,” said Schuster.
According to Pratt, the campus community needed to decide what were appropriate signs for labeling equal access restrooms.
“What symbol would create that environment where anybody and everybody is safe to use the restroom when they want to?” Pratt asked.
“If those three signs were there [a sign with side-by-side the traditionally used symbols for wheelchair accessible, women, and men] then you don’t know who was in that bathroom, and if somebody was looking to target someone, there is nobody to target. You’re not saying, Yes I’m transgendered, yes I’m transsexual, yes I’m male, yes I’m female, yes I have a disability. Any of those individuals have a right to access that bathroom.”
“What statement are we trying to make? If we’re clear about that, we can move forward. Part of it is in asking those questions, we got more questions than answers,” said Pratt.
Tim Wynn, Director of Facilities, said that there will be two single-stall restrooms in the new Academic Instructional Center building, and that one should be included in the upcoming renovation of Miller Hall, which will be detailed during the next biennium.
Wynn recommends that students prioritize which buildings they would like to see with converted bathrooms, and ask Student Affairs to add it to the 2009 - 2011 biennium.
“[I]f gender neutral bathrooms are a priority of the AS Board, then that position needs to be conveyed to the University Division with the responsibility for that action,” said Wynn. “In the case of new or renovated facilities that would be the Business and Financial Affairs Division. I hope that this provides a little more direct route for the AS to express its priorities.”
Schuster suggests that students do an inventory on single-stall restrooms presently on campus.
Iozzi said that although many student leaders are in favor of the equal access restrooms happening, with so many other campaigns many student leaders don’t have the time needed to be effective.
“We made progress on it last year,” said Iozzi, “but without someone picking up where that progress left off, it has to start from the beginning and you never get past that discussion.”
“If we have somebody who can put in that time, we have the resources to help them get connected to do it,” said Iozzi. “It probably wouldn’t take more work than what a student could manage.”
Iozzi is working to add equal access restrooms to a list of AS Goals so new generations of students coming into AS leadership will see this is something that students want.
“That will bring it into the legacy of things that students are working on,” Iozzi said.