More All-Gender Bathrooms to be in Effect by the Fall

2014-05-24 17.48.11

By the fall, Wesleyan will have a mix of new all-gender single-use and gendered multi-use bathrooms. After the trans* activism in the fall, when gendered bathroom signs were taken off most campus bathrooms, new all-gender bathroom signs popped up in many campus buildings (Exley, Usdan, North College, 41 Wyllys are the ones I noticed firsthand). By the end of this summer, “a new all-gender bathroom will be created on the ground floor of Olin, next to the existing men’s and women’s rooms,” according to University Librarian Pat Tully. “It is being created out of an existing custodial closet, which will be moved just down the hall.”

Physical Plant has gradually installed new bathroom signs across campus, and they committed to complete the installation before the end of the summer. Vice President for Student Affairs Dean Mike Whaley pledged to publish a list of the all-gender bathrooms online once the installations are done. According to him, “We actually have quite a lot of single-use all gender restrooms across campus, but awareness about where they are located needs to be better.”

On a related note, the fines paid by the trans* activists for taking down the original signs only represented a “tiny fraction of the total cost” of the new all-gender signs, according to Dean Whaley. And instead of paying fees, some of the activists worked to install the new signs. The gendered multi-use bathrooms will also have new signs that indicate where the location of the nearest all-gender bathroom is.

Below is the full memo by Dean Whaley and the WSA (originally drafted 11/20/13) outlining plans for de-gendering bathrooms and posting new all-gender signs. These plans should be completed by the end of the summer: 

In order to better understand the issues about which they are concerned, I have had several meetings with some of the students who initiated the recent activism involving de-gendering restrooms in some of Wesleyan’s public buildings. I also asked Physical Plant to conduct an audit of current bathroom facilities in academic and administrative buildings, and to research relevant building codes related to bathroom designations. Below I’ve articulated a summary of the issues with de-gendering/re-gendering as I understand them:

  • Gendered (those designated for “men” and “women”) restrooms promote a cis-normative binary that excludes and alienates trans* people
  • The University’s attempt to meet the needs of our trans* population and visitors by providing “all gender” single-use restrooms is inadequate because they are not available in all academic and administrative buildings
  • The locations of available “all gender” restrooms is not widely known
  • Bathroom signage for single-use restrooms could be made more inclusive
  • The current lack of signage on formerly gendered restrooms is confusing for some members of our community as well as for visitors
  • Building codes are typically predicated on a cis-normative paradigm, and require gendered designations for public, multi-use bathrooms
  • There are diverse and strong opinions about this issue among students, faculty and staff (issues include, but are not limited to, marginalization and violence against trans* people, impact to survivors of sexual violence and certain religious groups, and perception of sexual harassment, especially for supervisors sharing bathrooms with supervisees.)

Given the issues and constraints above, I propose the following solution to the de-gendering/re-gendering dilemma:

  1. According to the recent Physical Plant audit, 58 of Wesleyan’s 67 academic and administrative buildings currently have single-use “all gender” restrooms. The trans*-inclusive signage in Figure 1 [ed. note: The sign pictured above] should be installed on all of these restrooms (there are 173 single-use restrooms in these 58 buildings).
  2. In order to comply with established building codes, Wesleyan’s multi-use bathrooms should be re-gendered except as indicated in #3 below. The signage on these 136 restrooms should meet ADA requirements and each sign should also include information about the closest “all gender” restroom.
  3. 9 of Wesleyan’s 67 academic and administrative buildings do not have a single-use “all gender” bathroom. The most prominent of these is Olin Library. A project to create a single-use “all gender” restroom in Olin was developed last spring, and is awaiting funding so that construction can be completed in Summer 2014. Meanwhile, one of the designated multi-use “men” restrooms should be designated as “all gender” until the project is completed. Similar strategies for creating “all gender” restrooms in the remaining 8 buildings should be explored (along with temporary accommodations until these projects can be completed).
  4. A listing of the locations of Wesleyan’s single-use “all gender” restrooms should be published on the University’s website so that it is available for all members of our community as well as for visitors.
  5. Although restrooms in most residences are “all gender” (by designation or practice), the Undergraduate Residential Life Committee should review how these decisions are made by residents to ensure an inclusive process that meets the needs of all residents. The current practice in some areas of letting the majority decide marginalizes under-represented groups, including trans* students.


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7 thoughts on “More All-Gender Bathrooms to be in Effect by the Fall

  1. caterpie

    I am disappointed with this solution. While it is nice that it will be easier for people to find single-use allgender bathrooms, it seems that, overall, the institution is still forcibly promoting the cis binary. Trans people or anyone else who feels uncomfortable with the rigid binary will now be funneled into their own special spot, and excluded from the spaces that the majority of students will continue to use. I personally have never seen this issue as being only about the marginalization and harassment of trans people. The bathroom signage is simply a blatant example of institutionalized segregation that limits freedom, and distances community members from one another. I can understand that gendered bathrooms are a quaint tradition, but, especially at Wesleyan, they are an absurd relic of a past culture, and are only doing harm. It is important that we respect one another, no matter what space we are in. We are all in this together. People who really don’t feel comfortable with it for religious reasons, etc. can also use single use bathrooms. Every time I see a gendered bathroom sign, I am reminded that I have been labeled, and so has everyone around me, and I wonder how, from birth, these labels shape and/or limit the way we think, who we think we are, and what we can do or be.

    1. alum

      “an absurd relic of a past culture”
      Where have you been living for the first 18 years of your life? Gendered bathrooms exist everywhere and are the majority of bathrooms in the United States, and most of the rest of the world. Regardless of what Wesleyan does on campus, the world outside the red and black bubble is what it is.

      “distances community members from one another”

      how so? because we can’t shit as one united people?

      1. tt

        Gendered bathrooms promote the larger assumption that men and women exist as two isolated groups, an idea that has led to endless problems… While many people, perhaps especially at Wesleyan, have overcome the stereotypes of how their assigned gender should act or be, gendered bathrooms continue to force us to identify definitely with one or the other, in social and public spaces. At the least, this is unnecessary, while for some it may be an extremely uncomfortable experience. Furthermore, shitting is one of the most important parts of life.

        There are certainly places in the world where degendering public bathrooms might result in violence and chaos, but at Wesleyan, it would be a smooth transition. We shouldn’t simply accept the gender binary because it’s what the rest of the world is used to. To make a difference in the world, we must first deal with the issues within our community.

        1. alum

          I somewhat agree with what you’re saying (though I think you’re going a bit too far), but it’s mostly how you’re saying it. When you say that gendered bathrooms are a relic of a past culture, that’s just airy language that doesn’t actually mean anything. Degendered bathrooms might represent the future, but gendered bathrooms are (unfortunately) very much part of “current” culture (notwithstanding isolated bubbles of progressivism like Wesleyan, Vassar, etc). Same with “distances community members from one another.” Bathrooms aren’t exactly a gathering place where people attempt to have long social interactions.

          The important parts like “It is important that we respect one another, no matter what space we are in.” have less impact when you describe gendered bathrooms as “quaint.” Most of the world would disagree with you and won’t be able to identify with your arguments. Also, the cis-binary isn’t just an arbitrary system, it’s how > 95% of the world operates. Most people fall within the binary. You act as though it’s surprising that the cis binary exists, when in fact it’s not even the majority, it’s the supermajority. While I don’t think keeping most bathrooms gendered is oppressive to what is, in reality, a small minority, I do think the world at large needs to start accepting degendered bathrooms as normal and safe, which they very much are.

          “We shouldn’t simply accept the gender binary because it’s what the rest of the world is used to. To make a difference in the world, we must first deal with the issues within our community.”

          Very true. But at some point, the jump outside the bubble needs to be made, and the challenge is how to relate the argument to people less progressive than those at college campuses such as Wesleyan’s.

          1. caterpie

            I guess I just used the word “quaint” because of the way I sympathize with gendered activities and traditions…My assigned gender is female, and using a women’s restroom kind of reminds me of having ladies tea with my grandma.

          2. caterpie

            What disappoints me the most is the distant and authoritative attitude that the administrators have taken in dealing with the “trans* activism”. While Whaley’s memo appears to be sympathetic, I don’t believe administrators actually have spent enough time talking to and connecting with students. This is certainly a broader issue, but it often seems that administrators make decisions based on what their idea of a good institution is (one with a lot of money), as opposed to responding to student’s experiences (or other people employed by the University). I hope that in the future we can have more open conversations about issues that people feel strongly about.

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