Howard gains all-gender bathrooms

A map of the gender neutral bathroom locations on campus. (Photo Courtesy of Anna Gonzalez)

By MEGHAN ZEA

IN AN EFFORT to create a more inclusive campus for trans and gender nonconforming students, Lewis & Clark converted first floor bathrooms in JR Howard to be gender-open.

The all-gender bathrooms are on the first floor of JR Howard, with gender divided bathrooms remaining on the second and third floor of Howard. The renovations were primarily to convert the former men’s room, including enclosing the urinals with doors and strips at the edges of the panels to close up gaps people could look through.

The restrooms cost a total of $4,300 and the new signs cost an additional $400, not including labor. The funds for the new bathrooms came from the Facilities Plan for the 2015-2016 academic year as a part of their major capital projects. (Adding all-gender bathrooms to more buildings on the academic side of campus could cost more depending on rising costs.)

The fight for all-gender bathrooms on the academic side of LC campus has been a battle for years. Four years ago, students involved in the Queer Resource Center and United Genders and Sexualities, now merged into the Queer Student Union (QSU), created a petition asking for all-gender bathrooms on the academic side of campus and critiqued the fact that the only non-gendered bathrooms were on the residential side of campus. After years of rousing Facilities and other administrators to action, the QSU decided that the most viable option was to work with administration, and particularly Dean of Students Anna Gonzalez.

Samson Harman ’16, a peer counselor at the QSU, asserts that the new bathrooms were a priority for queer student groups on campus because they allow students that identify outside of the gender binary to have a place to feel safe in fulfilling basic bodily needs.

“To be frank: trans and gender nonconforming students like myself need a place to pee,” Harman said. “It was also incongruent to be a campus that purportedly supports queer people but yet lacks the basic necessities that allow us to be successful students. I can’t tell you the number of instances I’ve run around Watzek or other buildings, wasting immense amounts of time just looking for a place to relieve myself.”

Anna Gonzalez, Dean of Students, “credits the QSU for getting this process started” and maintains that “it really feels good to partner with students.” She also says that is was generally a positive experience working with queer student groups.

“The whole process was respectful,” Gonzalez said. “There was a lot of patience and understanding on both sides. The processes in higher education are slow because [all-gender bathrooms] had to be a part of capital projects and the students listened and understood that.”

However, members of the QSU expressed disappointment that the bathrooms were not modified by the time students returned in the fall.

“It was frustrating to have the bathrooms changed two months into the year,” Harman said. “What’s happened is that people are accustomed to whatever bathroom was there before, thus, the right hand side bathroom in Howard always has way more men than the left hand side. Eventually, new people in later years will obliterate this pattern, but for now, it’s sort of overwhelming for a person like me, who is non-binary and surrounded by majority dudes.”

Other groups on campus are also supportive of the new bathrooms. Though the Feminist Student Union (FSU) has not actively been involved with conversations with Student Life, coordinator Bridget Lowry ’18, maintains they are strong allies.

“The FSU is extremely happy about the changes to the bathrooms in JR Howard,” Lowry said. “Thanks to QSU and all the beautiful souls that work so hard for these important changes.”

In the future, Gonzalez maintains that Student Life will continue to work to make trans students and gender nonconforming students feel included on campus. This includes trainings on trans identities. Additionally, they are working to make sure that transitioning trans students have a smoother transition.

“We are working on a website right now to look at how we will honor student’s pronouns or non-pronoun use,” Gonzalez said. “For students who are transitioning, we want to create a one stop shop where students can have all their needs taken care of, instead of having to go to three different places to fill out forms.

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