When students and faculty return for the spring semester in January, there will be three more all-gender restrooms at Macalester, on the third floor of Olin-Rice and in the basement of Carnegie. The renovations will be made over the course of winter break and be finished before the semester begins.
According to Nathan Lief, director of facilities services, Olin-Rice and Carnegie were the last two in the string of restrooms to be converted because of their low cost and relatively simple needs for conversion. The frosted glass has already been changed on the bathroom doors of Carnegie, and the partition systems in them will be changed over break. In Olin-Rice, the men’s room will be most affected; individual stalls will replace the urinal fixtures. In the case of every all-gender bathroom on campus, the signage outside will be changed to indicate who the bathroom accommodates.
Over the summer, a number of restrooms on campus were converted to accommodate all genders. These include restrooms on the fourth floor of the library, in the basements of Doty and Dupre Halls, and on the second floor of Neill Hall. The change came as a result of the combined efforts of administrators in Student Affairs, such as Jim Hoppe and Laurie Hamre, and staff from the Department of Multicultural Life, such as Chris MacDonald-Dennis. Students were also a key component in the change, including members of the Health, Gender, and Sexuality (HUGS) task force of MPIRG and trans* students and allies on campus who worked with the Department of Multicultural Life.
Lief also noted that the ability to create gender-inclusive restrooms was limited in part by building codes, which prescribe the number of fixtures included in each bathroom.
“When you start to make major modifications to infrastructure, like replacing urinals with toilets, the permitting process can force you to bring the entire space into conformity with the current code,” Lief explained in an email. “As you can imagine, that could have greatly increased the cost of the projects and severely increased the timelines.”
The library and and the Leonard Center were the first to be converted. “We wanted to [first] hit the ones that would have the most impact,” Lief said.
The library, Lief added, was also easiest to renovate; it was comparatively less complex and expensive.
Laurie Hamre, vice president of student affairs, brought the proposal for the bathrooms to the President’s senior staff. She has attributed the recent changes to campus culture and funding.
For Olin-Rice and Carnegie, which have a higher population of staff and faculty than many other buildings, one goal of the all-gender restroom initiative has been working to increase awareness among staff and faculty members about the transition to all-gender bathrooms, and trans* issues in general. An informal lunch panel will be held in each of the buildings before spring semester in which mostly non-cis and gender nonconforming students will answer questions about the bathrooms.
According to HUGS co-chair Samuel Doten ’16, staff and faculty with offices in the two buildings will especially be encouraged to attend. A two-page document answering common questions about all-gender bathrooms will be distributed in offices and common spaces in Olin-Rice and Carnegie; signs may also be posted at each of the bathrooms providing explanations of the purpose they serve.
“Personally, I think the best way to garner genuine support for a new and unfamiliar policy or practice is to directly dialogue with those who could be uncomfortable from this change, and that includes faculty and staff who don’t necessarily engage in trans* identity issues like many students do,” Doten said in an email. “There are passionate supporters of all-gender bathrooms in the faculty, and I’m sure there are a number who are uncomfortable or aren’t aware of the need for them. But, as I said, education is the most effective way to bring everyone on board.”
“I think that all of the faculty here are definitely well-meaning. I don’t think that means that they’re necessarily well-educated about gender issues at all,” said Grey Myers ’17. “There’s a reason that this is happening, and it’s because there are people who can’t go into either of those restrooms. And because there are trans* people who would get harassed if they tried to go into either of those restrooms. I don’t think [faculty and staff] necessarily need to be activists or anything, but if they understood why the changes were happening, that would be good. There’s a risk of both physical violence, if someone sees you in the restroom and they don’t think you belong in there…and social violence. Because if I go into either of the binary restrooms…I have to deal with the ramification of students’ assumptions.”
“For me, [all-gender bathrooms] are just safe,” Gabriel Keyl ’17 said. “A lot of times, I’ll be waiting for a bathroom because there aren’t that many, or I’ll end up walking very far across campus . . . Gender-neutral restrooms don’t have implications solely for trans* people, but for everyone.”