Walking into a public bathroom does not induce anxiety for most people. But for some students and faculty members, using male or female-specific bathrooms prompts embarrassing questions and uncomfortable stares.
Responding to requests from individuals and campus groups last winter, the University has since allocated 12 campus bathrooms as gender-neutral. After the Regenstein Library's bathroom renovations are completed on October 18, that total will come to 15, according to Bill Michel, deputy dean of the College.
"How we're defining what we're trying to accomplish is a bathroom that an individual can usewhether they're male, female, or their gender is such that they'd prefer to use a bathroom that does not have a gender designation," said Michel.
Student responses to the gender-neutral bathrooms have been varied. Though most supported the change, some admitted they would not actually use them. "I would feel a little uncomfortable using them," said first-year in the College Anthony Harmon. "But I don't have a problem with them as long as you keep the ones that are just for men and just for women."
Allison Kean, a third-year in the College, remains unperturbed by the new bathrooms. "I think if they were all gender-neutral bathrooms, there would be people who would be uncomfortable," she said.
Other students emphasize cleanliness as the most important issue. "I would be fine in a gender-neutral bathroom," said first-year in the College Kathryn Stewart. "As long as you clean up your mess, your genitalia doesn't bother me."
"I'd feel fine using them," said second-year student Lucas Wiesendanger. "I don't know why it's such a big issue; it seems pretty obvious to me."
Some students feel that there is a male-female divide in their responses to the gender-neutral bathrooms. "I feel like it's more of an issue with girls," said second-year student Jose Philogene. "Guys don't really have a problem with that."
Most students questioned were not aware that the campus had gender-neutral bathrooms, perhaps signifying that the bathrooms are not in convenient locations. The bathrooms can also be useful for parents who need to bring their children inside, said Michel. Some of the bathrooms, including one on the sixth floor of Harper Memorial Library and one on the A-level of the Regenstein Library, are labeled as family and gender-neutral bathrooms.
Other gender-neutral bathrooms, including one on the fifth floor of Cobb Hall, are intended for single use. They do not have stalls. The bathrooms on the third floor of Ida Noyes Hall, the Regenstein Library, and Harper Memorial Library locations have both stalls and urinals. These bathrooms are also equipped with a lock on the outside door for added privacy. "I would hope that every one would feel comfortable using them, whatever their gender identity," Michel said.
"Bathrooms segregated by sex are potentially unsafe and intimidating places for a variety of people," said Ana Minian, a fourth-year in the College and the liaison officer between Queers & Associates (Q&A) and QueerAction. "Persons who are not easily legible as male or female often experience various forms of intimidation in these places."
Minian cited one example of a person who mistook a woman for a man and called security because the woman used a female bathroom.
"I don't agree with the impetus [for gender-neutral bathrooms], because you should feel comfortable whoever you are and confident in your sexuality," said second-year student Alexander Coppock.
QueerAction, backed by Q&A and Feminist Majority, pushed the University to make gender-neutral bathrooms last winter. On November 19 of last year Minian organized a panel discussion titled "The Importance of Gender-Neutral Bathrooms" to bring more attention to the concern. "This was the main thing we did that convinced the administrators on the importance of gender-neutral bathrooms," Minian said. "In my opinion, much progress has been made in this area," said John Gabriel, a third-year in the College and president of Q&A. "We were overwhelmed this last winter by how quickly the administration moved to meet the need for gender-neutral restrooms on campus...and I am sure everyone else on the project...is very satisfied with the results."