Students discuss how to push gender-neutral options on campus

On March 5, members from the Tufts Student Senate and the LGBT community discuss how bathrooms and other Tufts campus facilities can be made safer speces for trans and gender non-conforming students at the LGBT Center. Nicholas Pfosi / The Tufts Daily

The Lesbian Gay Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) Center hosted a town hall meeting in conjunction with representatives from the Tufts Community Union (TCU) Senate on March 5 to discuss student experiences with housing, bathrooms and other campus facilities and the need for more gender-neutral options at Tufts.

Eleven students and one faculty member came together to discuss their thoughts on current policies regarding gender-neutral facilities and to propose changes to the system.

TCU Senate Diversity and Community Affairs Officer and Women’s Center Representative Allison Aaronson, a sophomore, opened the meeting by asking the community what the TCU Senate can do in order to further develop a safe environment for transgender and gender non-conforming students at Tufts.

Students expressed an immediate need to create gender-neutral bathroom options in public places such as Dewick-MacPhie Dining Hall and the Mayer Campus Center.

“Having to come home or to the [LGBT] Center just to go to the bathroom is ridiculous,” junior Reneé Vallejo, TCU Senate LGBT Center representative, said.

Students also expressed a desire for single-stall options in washing facilities and locks for shower stalls in order to make students feel more comfortable. Multiple attendees proposed having residence-hall bathrooms become “gender-open,” but acknowledged the concern of a pushback from other community members.

TCU Senator Benya Kraus, a first-year, suggested implementing a large-scale survey to gauge the campus attitude toward this topic and gendered housing in general.

According to Aaronson, the TCU Senate recently passed a resolution to commit to making every new space at Tufts more transgender and non-conforming-friendly. She said she worked on this resolution with Vallejo and sophomore Zoe Jeka.

“Senate passed a resolution [three] weeks ago with the specific demand of having the Tufts administration commit to having at least one gender-neutral bathroom in every new construction project or major renovation that they undertake,” Aaronson explained. “We’re asking Tufts to agree to that by the end of this year.”

She explained that late last semester, the TCU Senate passed a project approval for her to work under the Senate’s name on a proposal to update existing buildings on campus to have at least one gender-neutral bathroom. For some buildings, this might just involve changing signs on single-stall bathrooms, while for others this might mean creating more private spaces within multi-stall bathrooms.

“The two things for this year that we’re urging Tufts to do is commit to that proposal for existing buildings, as well as the policy change for future buildings,” she said.

According to Aaronson, there is a three-phase plan in order to make these changes happen in current administrative and academic buildings on campus, beginning with sign changes in single-stall bathrooms. The plan is being priced out by Robert Reppucci in Facilities Services and will eventually be passed on to Vice President of Operations Linda Snyder for approval.

Aaronson noted that a meeting is scheduled for early April for administrators to discuss a more thorough plan of action. She also asked the attendees about their preferences for signage on bathrooms. The consensus was that all-gender bathrooms should be labeled without pictures, except for braille and handicap symbols where applicable.

Next, the focus shifted to policies for gender-neutral housing. Attendees explained their concerns with the current system in place.

According to the Tufts housing application, official gender-neutral housing options for the 2015-2016 year include Bush Hall, one 10-person Latin Way suite, one 10-person Hillsides Apartments suite, 10 Carmichael Hall doubles, 10 South Hall doubles and one 10-person Wren Hall suite.

Several students expressed concern over the added pressure during the housing process to effectively secure one of these options.

Attendees also cited the pressure to fill a spot very quickly if a roommate moves out, given that the Office of Residential Life and Learning (ResLife) cannot guarantee that the room will remain part of gender-neutral housing.

The group formed a consensus that eventually the goal would be to make all housing and restrooms gender-neutral and that students would have to opt-out in order to guarantee housing within their specific gender.

Attendees also expressed the need to keep an all-female space on campus out of respect for some expressed safety concerns in residential buildings.

As the gender-neutral option is currently only available for sophomores, juniors and seniors, attendees discussed options for ensuring the comfort of first-years in housing placements.

Students proposed that for incoming first-years, the housing application could have a check box next to the statement, “I have concerns about my safety in housing related to my identity,” and ResLife would then call any person who checks the box to ensure a safe living environment without the necessity of “outing” that person.

At the end of the meeting, attendees were given the opportunity to write down anonymous notes about their previous experiences and problems in order to give the administration a better understanding of the need for these changes. Aaronson explained that she believes the Office of Equal Opportunity would like to make this happen, but noted that she was not sure when changes could be made.

“I don’t know if [ResLife] want[s] to make changes as quickly as I want them to make changes,” she said. “I see this as a state of emergency. Students right now are not feeling safe at Tufts.”