Campus Restroom Equality

Over the past few years, schools around the country have begun adopting policies and practices to be more inclusive of the transgender and gender non-conforming community. 

Currently at Valpo, there is no restroom inclusion policy for transgender and gender non-conforming students on campus. 

“Our university does not have an official policy regarding restroom use for students, faculty and or guests. Our assumption is that people will use good judgment and discretion when choosing their preferred restroom based on their own gender identification,” said Associate Provost for Inclusion and Retention Stacey Miller. “Fortunately, we also have non-gender specific, single use restrooms in many of our newer buildings to accommodate persons who identify outside the binary.” 

Although the University currently does not have a policy on this topic, Miller said this is something they are looking into to see if we need a policy like this, and if so, what would it look like. 

Schools like Notre Dame and Indiana University have published online resources that map gender neutral and or single occupancy restrooms around campus. 

Associate Director and Director of Undergraduate Studies in the Gender Studies Program, Pam Butler, teaches an introduction to gender studies course at Notre Dame University. 

In this class, students were tasked with mapping single occupancy restrooms and all genders restrooms on campus. 

“We were doing that for the most part of my class and then we had all this data that was piling up and so a group of students decided to take that data and turn it into the map that we have now,” Butler said. 

This map has now turned into a bigger project, the Free2Pee movement. Notre Dame, like Indiana University, has an online interactive map that maps single occupancy and all gender restrooms on campus. 

The students in Butler’s class went out and collected all of the data for the map, which was inspired by an article written by students at the University of California Santa Barbara titled “Calling All Restroom Revolutionaries.” 

The group of students, called People in Search of Safe and Accessible Restrooms (PISSAR), was made up of people in support of better restrooms for disabled and LGBT+ community members. 

At Notre Dame, there is no policy on which restroom the campus community can use, similarly to Valpo. 

“Our administration is not in the business of telling people which bathrooms to use, so there's not any kind of regulation, just people using the bathroom that is appropriate for them,” Butler said.  

Butler also mentioned that since Notre Dame is a bigger school with a lot of students, there are a lot of new buildings that are being built with single occupancy bathrooms. Although these are typically marked “family bathrooms,” this is still an option for students. 

As mentioned by Miller, most single occupancy, non-gendered restrooms on Valpo’s campus are located in newer buildings. 

Heidbrink Hall, the Social Work building, is one of the older buildings on campus that is outside of this description. 

In Heidbrink, there is a “men's” restroom and a “women's” restroom. While these are labeled with official metal signs, there are paper, laminated signs on each door that read, “We are an inclusive environment. Please use the restroom that best fits your gender identity. You are welcome here.” 

Clinical Assistant Professor of Social Work, Caroline Ban, teaches a class in which senior social work majors are required to tackle a “town hall project.” The purpose of this is to tackle and change something within the social work department. 

“Last year’s group decided that they wanted to work on gender inclusive language within the department,” Ban said. 

The group that tackled this project of developing more gender inclusive language within the department did this in many ways. 

They decided that everyone could put their preferred pronouns in their email signature, post inclusive restroom signs, as well as professors putting inclusive statements in their syllabi. 

“The signs that you see actually are sorta the fill-in signs because they eventually hope to purchase more permanent looking signs, and that is what the Student Social Work Organization will be looking at,” Ban said. 

In the previous class, the town hall group did a project where they mapped where gender inclusive restrooms were on campus, similar to the Free2Pee group at Notre Dame. 

On this map, it identifies seven campus buildings with gender neutral restrooms, though this was a student organized map so there is possibility for error. 

Earlier, it was mentioned by Miller the lack of policy on this issue, but she also addressed that the University assumes that people will use their “best judgment.”

Rio Parsons, a sophmore non-binary student, reflects on the lack of policy at Valpo. 

“It would be so nice to when I go to the bathroom anywhere on campus to not get dysphoria every single time,” Parsons, a resident of Guild-Memorial, said. “It’s not like I have my own personal bathroom in the dorms.” 

In response to Miller’s statement regarding university community to use their best judgment when choosing which restroom to use, Parsons said, “I would be more comfortable going to the male bathrooms, but I usually don’t because I am genuinely kind of scared that if I go in there someones gonna be like ‘What are you doing here?’” 

Parsons continued by saying, “Its not uncommon for transgender people to get beat up in situations like that, not usually on colleges but it genuinely is a safety issue. I think if there was a policy in place saying ‘This is allowed, this is okay. Go to the bathroom that you’re comfortable with,’ then I would feel safer going in because at least if someone tries to start something I can say ‘No, Im allowed to do this.’” 

According to an article published by the National Public Radio (NPR), those aganist transgender restrooms laws feel that sexual predators will use these laws to prey on women and children. 

Alongside this, an article published in the Advocate from 2015 reads, “...there has never been a verifiable, reported instance of a trans person harassing a cisgender person, nor have there been any confirmed reports of male predators ‘pretending’ to be transgender to gain access to women's spaces and commit crimes against them.

On the flip side, as Parsons mentioned, attacks aganist transgender or gender non-conforming persons experience attacks in restrooms at a higher rate. 

Associate Professor of English and Co-Director of the Welcome Project, Allison Schuette, began advising Alliance since becoming a professor here in 2005. 

“I think the institution should take a stand and I would want that policy to be in favor of people being able to use the bathroom of their own gender identity,” Schuette said. 

One thing that Schuette and Parsons both mentioned was students taking hold of the task of policy change. 

“If students wanted to see it become a policy, they could work through Alliance,” Schuette said. “They could form their ideal policy and then start advocating for it through the Office of Multicultural Programs.” 

Parsons feels that for this to be successful, it needs to be more than just transgender people. 

“We are easy to ignore because it’s not that big a group of people. If there is any transphobia, it makes it easier to discredit it us so I think the most important thing is having allies,” Parsons said. 

Aside from the trandgender and gender non-conforming community, there are other communities of people that could greatly benefit from single occupancy restrooms. 

“We think a lot about gender and bathrooms but bathroom facilities are also closely linked with questions of physical ability, caregiver status, students who feel it is important to have space for their service dog,” Butler said. 

With this, it makes it easy for these groups on campus to collaborate, like those at the University of California Santa Barbara who merged to form PISSAR, to help create a policy like this at Valpo. 

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