All-gender restrooms converted, trans* students seek more inclusivity

Accommodations for transgender and other non-binary students have been improving on campus, particularly with the recent switches to all-gender bathrooms in various locations across campus. The fourth floor of the library, the second floor of Neill Hall and the basements of Doty and Dupre Halls all now feature all-gender restrooms.

A group of transgender students and the Health, Gender, and Sexuality (HUGS) task force of MPIRG began the initiative to redesignate these bathrooms last year. Oliver Schminkey ’16 (they/their/theirs) is a non-binary transgender, or trans*, student at Macalester, and considers this initiative essential to Mac’s trans*, gender-nonconforming and intersex communities, among others.

As part of HUGS’ correspondence with Schminkey and other trans* students, the task force sent out a survey last year on the topic of all-gender bathrooms. Based on feedback from the student body, MCSG decided to make converting the bathrooms a priority, as stated in a resolution passed in early March.

“Exclusion, harassment, and even violence against transgender people in gendered restrooms is fairly common,” Schminkey said. “Without access to adequate restrooms, people can develop physical health issues such as bladder and urinary tract infections, as well as mental health issues. Increased access to all-gender bathrooms also shows that the Macalester community cares about respecting, including and providing safe spaces for its transgender population.”

While all-gender bathrooms already existed in various buildings around campus prior to the recent conversions, there were still many places that contained only single-gender bathrooms, providing no options for those who didn’t feel comfortable using them. The students began meeting with various administrators, including Vice President of Student Affairs Laurie Hamre, to discuss possibilities.

According to Hamre, after the Campus Center was renovated in 2001, the College made a commitment to “take a gender-neutral stance and always have [gender-neutral bathrooms] as a possibility.” While that affected new buildings on campus, older buildings would still need renovations.

“We don’t want anyone [to have] to go between classes [or to have] to walk five buildings away or [to] just not feel comfortable and safe,” Hamre said.

Eventually, the college made plans to renovate four buildings on campus to include gender-neutral restrooms. Facilities renovated Neill Hall and the DeWitt Wallace Library this summer. While the restroom in Neill Hall is a single-stalled bathroom, the second and fourth floors of the library now feature two full all-gender bathrooms. Hamre explained that the College wanted to be sure that the library’s all-gender bathrooms were in a place where everyone could use them. The bathroom that was converted in Neill Hall happened to already be single-stalled, meaning its conversion would be easier than renovating two full bathrooms.

Currently there are three buildings, not including residence halls, that are left to be renovated; the Weyerhauser Memorial Chapel, Olin-Rice and Carnegie. Both Olin-Rice and Carnegie will be renovated this January, following discussions with faculty and staff who have offices in the buildings. Entire bathrooms will have to be converted, which might cause some faculty or staff members who feel more comfortable in a single-gender bathroom to change their habits. Hamre says that the College wishes “to be respectful across the board” during these conversions. In addition, the Chapel is most likely the next building to be fully renovated on campus. Because of this, there are not any current plans to renovate the Chapel bathrooms in the near future.

During the renovations on campus over the summer, the College encountered outdated city building codes. Consequently, there may be correspondence with the city of St. Paul about these restrictions.

“We don’t live in a vacuum,” Hamre said. “Our graduates are going to go off into the world in different places, so for us to not try to take an opportunity to educate and spread the word and make it broader than Mac, I don’t think [we’d be] being very true to our values.”

Both Amy McMeeking ’16, who was last years’ HUGS task force leader, and Schminkey mentioned potential education and outreach to local businesses that currently do not have any gender-neutral restrooms. “Ideally, I would hope that one day the ratio of all-gender to gendered bathrooms will be flipped [in St. Paul],” Schminkey said. “As in, most bathrooms will be all-gender and only a few will be gendered. I know that this will take a lot of time and effort, but I’m hopeful.”

Of course, the work to increase trans* acceptance and accommodation on campus does not stop at the renovation of the restrooms.

“Our goal of each building on campus containing an all-gender bathroom has still not yet been recognized,” Schminkey said. “We are also still working on improving access to all-gender restrooms and housing in dorms and other on-campus housing. There are still very limited options for all-gender housing, and a significant portion of the dorms do not have accessible all-gender restroom facilities.”

Schminkey also cited a recent instance during class in which a professor used transphobic language. This occurred after Schminkey distributed a zine they had made, “Pronouns Matter: A Guide to Creating Safer Classrooms for Transgender Students,” to all faculty at the beginning of the school year.

“I felt extremely uncomfortable, silenced and unsafe, but not a single one of my cisgender peers, all of whom know that I am transgender, said a single thing to call out the transphobia/erasure or support me.”

When asked about furthering trans* acceptance on campus, Schminkey proposed measures of self-education, such as the use of personal gender pronouns (PGPs) when meeting new people, seeking out literature about transgender struggles and listening to the testimonies of trans* people in one’s community rather than speaking over them.

“If we, as students, demonstrate that fighting transphobia is important to all of us—–not just to those of us who are transgender—–we can affect serious change,” Schminkey said.

PLACES TO FIND ALL-GENDER RESTROOMS:

  • Fourth floor of library
  • Second floor of Neill Hall
  • Doty Hall basement
  • Dupre Hall basement