Those not on campus last year may not have been aware of the heated debate over gendered bathrooms that unfolded throughout the 2013-14 academic school year. Last fall, several students were fined by the Student Judicial Board for removing gendered bathroom signs around campus. Their actions, and the resulting sanctions, sparked considerable debate over whether such spaces should be gendered and how the University should address the matter. Since then, a gender-neutral bathroom has been opened in Olin Library, and several bathrooms in academic buildings have been officially degendered. However, given the controversial nature of the matter, it is hard to say that things are fully resolved.
The movement to degender spaces on campus was done in an attempt to make restrooms a more comfortable environment for trans* and queer members of the community. The idea has been gaining traction throughout the University since 2001.
In October 2013, a group of students under the name “Pissed off Trans* People” removed gendered bathroom signs from several restrooms around campus without administrative approval—areas ranging from residence halls, academic buildings, and dining halls—as a movement of trans* activism. These students replaced the gendered plaques with signs designating the bathrooms as gender-neutral.
“It was a deliberate choice to not consult the administration before taking direct action, largely because of skepticism confirmed by lived experienced [sic] that administrators and deans have to wade through and project so much diversity-accepting, allied-rhetoric as an obligation,” one of the activists said in an interview with The Argus last year. “Behind that, [there] often lies an indifference of the needs of different minority groups on campus.”
Although there are official gender-neutral restrooms in various locations on campus, this group of students felt that the quantity was insufficient.
“This issue isn’t just a matter of people’s comfort and what trans* students want,” one student told The Argus last October. “It’s very seriously a systemic problem in the country in general that trans* people are at much higher risk for urinary tract infections and kidney infections, and all these sorts of issues that come from not having convenient bathrooms.”
In discussing these concerns at a forum last fall, several students, including sexual assault survivors, shared personal stories to convey their discomfort with the idea of making all bathrooms on campus gender-neutral.
“I am a survivor of sexual assault, and I feel very uncomfortable having the only bathrooms available be gender-neutral,” one student said during a forum hosted by Wesleyan Diversity Education Facilitators (WesDEF), Wesleying, Open House, and QueerWes last November. “I feel like I and other sexual assault survivors should have an option with only women.”
One suggestion was to have an “E” on each bathroom door—a method used by Oberlin College—that would stand for “Everyone.” If a student wanted the bathroom to be a women’s bathroom temporarily, ze could rotate the “E” into a “W”; if a student preferred a men’s bathroom, they could rotate the letter to an “M”; and finally, if a student desired the bathroom be used as a single-use room, they could rotate the letter into a “3.”
Conversation surrounding the issue may have died down somewhat since last year, but one thing remains certain: a conclusion has yet to be reached. All involved, however, have noted that the difficult discussions must be ongoing and open to more resolutions.
“The second all of us leave this room, what can we do to try to make things different or better?” one student asked at the forum. “These discussions are very difficult to have, but that doesn’t mean we should stop having them. That’s something to remember.”