Students discuss gender open bathrooms

By Hae Ryun Kang

The issue of gender-blind campus accommodations can be seen as a yardstick for measuring Macalester’s progressive spirit.Compared to Christendom College in Front Royal, Va., voted the most conservative college in the United States by the Young America’s Foundation, Macalester is radically liberal. But compared to Oberlin College, it still has a long way to go. Oberlin has gender-blind showers, housing options and restroom facilities.

In the basement of Kirk Hall on Tuesday, Feminists In Action/Students Together Against Rape and Sexual Assault held a lunch discussion regarding the gender-blind issue. Five students and two staff members attended, entertaining options including the possibility of a
gender-blind house.

“There was a lot of talk in The Mac Weekly, but not enough dialogue,” FIA/STARSA leader Allison MacWilliams-Brooks ’08 said. “We need to encourage dialogue to open our minds to gender fluidity by not restricting spaces according to gender. Macalester should not be an uncomfortable place for people who want to explore gender.”

Members also discussed the perception that the gender-blind movement represents only the concerns of individual transgender students, and criticisms from students towards an administrative lack of effort.

“The support and concerns are largely raised by the non-transgender students who ally with and support the transgender [students] at Mac,” director of Campus Life Keith Edwards said. “As for criticisms about our lack of effort, this is frustrating because I have unsuccessfully tried to talk to various organizations about this issue.”

The main obstacle to gender-blind bathrooms is not lack of administrative will, but restrictive facilities, Edwards said.

“If there were three bathrooms or single-user bathrooms, there would be no problems,” he said. “However, this is not the case with most halls.”

Dorms built in recent years include gender-blind accommodations. Residence halls for underclassmen, however, still largely do not.

Some students said the lack of awareness among underclassmen was apparent. No first-year students attended the discussion.

“Awareness could be spread through floor meetings and orientation,” said Suma Setty ’09, a FIA-STARSA leader.

Attendees also discussed the possibility of a gender-blind theme house, an option Edwards compared to the Hebrew House in Kirk. Edwards said he hopes to collaborate with FIA-STARSA, Queer Union, other students and perhaps the Women’s, Gender and Sexuality Studies department to develop this housing proposal to create a “vibrant learning community” offering accommodations and space beyond gender-blind bathrooms.