TCU representative proposes plan for more gender-neutral bathrooms

Several Tufts students have partnered with the Office of Residential Life and Learning, the Lesbian Gay Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) Center and the Facilities Services Department to increase the number of gender-neutral bathrooms on campus.

Allison Aaronson, the Women’s Center Representative for Tufts Community Union (TCU) Senate, submitted a proposal to Tufts Facilities Services for review and cost summary on Monday, Feb. 2.

According to Aaronson, a sophomore, the proposal suggests tackling the project in three phases, with every public and academic building containing a gender-neutral bathroom by the completion of the third phase in fall 2016.

The first phase of construction would involve simply changing existing, gendered signs on single-stall bathrooms to gender-neutral ones, sophomore Zoe Jeka, who worked with Aaronson on the proposal, said. Once those changes have been made, the next phase would be to convert dual-stall bathrooms into two separate, single-stall facilities with open bathroom signage, she said.

The third and most complicated phase will tackle the large, multi-stall bathrooms in buildings such as Dewick-MacPhie Dining Center and the Mayer Campus Center, Jeka said.

“We are proposing to change dual-stall bathrooms into gender-neutral bathrooms with full stall units. Each stall would become a full unit, floor to ceiling, no cracks. You can go in and lock the door. Then outside there would be a shared sink space,” Jeka said.

The biggest challenge to accomplishing this project is construction, Director of the LGBT Center Nino Testa said, noting that there has not been any significant resistance to the project other than considerations about construction.

“There is a lot more student energy and momentum at Tufts,” Testa said. “The Senate passed a unanimous resolution in favor of more gender-neutral bathroom options … the energy is there and the will in the administration is there. Figuring out logistically how to do it is the station that we’re at.”

Although TCU readily passed a resolution to increase gender-neutral facilities, the needs of gender non-conforming people are not given significant consideration on campus, Aaronson said.

“Being a trans individual is not a choice, and [the validity of the experience is not] up for debate. Trans identified individuals have been harassed, discriminated against and even arrested for using a bathroom that the public did not feel they were welcome to,” Aaronson said. “I hope that Tufts and other universities begin to prioritize the safety of open bathrooms over the comfort of the status quo.”

Aaronson also stated that she does want to keep the comfort of cisgender people in mind. She explained that her ideal outcome would be for residential and public buildings to have both open and gendered bathrooms, in case some students feel uncomfortable in a gender-neutral bathroom.

Director of the Office of Residential Life and Learning Yolanda King agreed that it is important for the university to respect all students’ needs.

“We need to make sure we are providing support and resources to gender non-conforming students to make sure they are getting the assistance they need,” King said.

Aaronson added that there is a list of buildings with gender-neutral bathrooms on the LGBT Center website, which will be updated throughout the construction process.

In addition to expanding the number of gender-neutral bathrooms, Testa explained that he, Aaronson and Jeka have also been in conversation with Associate Director of Student and Alumni Services Linda Snell to discuss additional steps to make Tufts a more gender-inclusive campus.

According to Testa, they are working on fixing the systems so that students can change their name and gender pronouns within Tufts databases. They hope to see changes such as a space in SIS that will allow students to input their correct pronouns, which would allow faculty members and professors to see their students’ correct pronouns when they upload a semesterly roster, he explained.

“Those are the conversations that we are having about ways to make our systems more inclusive of names, pronouns and identities in ways that will be efficient but also more human and more accurate for representing people’s actual identities,” Testa said.

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