Student activism leads the push for gender-neutral bathrooms

Gender neutral bathrooms in Richardson following its summer renovation during move-in day for the incoming Class of 2019 on Wednesday, Sep. 2, 2015. Nicholas Pfosi / The Tufts Daily Archives

Gender-neutral bathrooms are being installed in Carmichael and Dewick-MacPhie Dining Centers and in the Mayer Campus Center by the Department of Campus Planning, in accordance with the LGBT Center student demands, according to sophomore Shannon Lee, the Tufts Community Union (TCU) Senate Diversity & Community Affairs Officer. 

There is no set date for these installations, though coordinations with janitorial staff to install single-stall bathrooms are under way, according to Associate Director for Campus Life Ashley Austin and TCU Senate President Benya Kraus. According to Austin, the gender-neutral bathroom in the Campus Center will be a converted janitorial closet, and according to Lee, floor plans exist for new bathrooms to be constructed in the dining halls.

Lee said that the Department of Campus Planning has created floor plans for the construction of all-gender bathrooms in the Campus Center, Carmichael and Dewick. The Department of Campus Planning is also in the process of relabelling all single-stall restrooms on the Medford campus as gender-neutral, Lee said.

The installation of gender-neutral bathrooms is the result of  many years of student activism and demands, TCU President Benya Kraus, a senior, stated.

“Students have been very clear that there are not enough all-gender or gender-neutral bathrooms on campus,” Hope Freeman, director of the LGBT Center, told the Daily in an email.

According to a Daily article from September 2016, advocacy for gender-neutral bathrooms was the basis of a campaign led by former Chief Diversity Officer Mark Brimhall-Vargas and former LGBT Center Director Nino Testa.

An October 2017 article in the Observer entitled “We Just Want To Pee: The Fight For All-Gender Bathrooms on Campus” spurred action from TCU Senate, according to Kraus. Kraus also emphasized trans and queer students’ activism around this issue.

“I think it’s important to highlight that this is a project that is coming from the trans and queer community, and it is their activism that has gotten it to the attention of administrators,” Kraus explained. “When we wrote our resolution, it was just to amplify … the demands that were already there.”

Senior Liam Easton-Calabria, the personnel manager of the Rez coffee shop, is a student voice advocating for gender-neutral bathrooms across campus. Easton-Calabria said he wrote a petition for multi-stall gender-inclusive bathrooms available at the Rez for students to sign, attracting support from the student body.

“There should be gender-inclusive bathrooms all over campus, hands down, and it’s shocking that there aren’t any in the Campus Center. Some of my coworkers have to leave the building to find a suitable bathroom,” Easton-Calabria told the Daily via email. “We decided to collect signatures and set up meetings with the administration, as a way of saying, look, we have student support in this. Let’s make the signage on the upstairs bathrooms inclusive.”

Austin stated that a primary goal of the Office for Campus Life is to listen to student voices and respond with supportive action.

“Our goal is to just offer a space in this building for students, faculty, staff, members of the general public who frequent this building as well to feel like they have a safe space,” Austin explained.

However, student demands remain unsatisfied, according to Easton-Calabria. Plans for bathroom implementation have not been communicated to students, and the building plans remain unclear, according to Easton-Calabria.

Easton-Calabria stressed that multi-stall inclusive bathrooms remain a top priority. Lee and Austin both said that there are no plans to install multi-stall gender-inclusive bathrooms in the short term, though these bathrooms are a long-term priority.

Easton-Calabria also spoke about the difficulty students have faced in receiving support from the administration.

“The most difficult part has been getting answers from the administration. For a school that claims to have high regard for its queer students, it has not been forthright with its bathroom plans. Shouldn’t we be celebrating these upcoming developments? Why are they being so silent?” Easton-Calabria said. “Trans and GNC [gender-nonconforming] students need to be involved in this process.”

Though some students remain unsatisfied with the administration’s efforts, Kraus said she feels that this is a positive action to make Tufts a more welcoming and supportive place. She said that the push for gender-neutral bathrooms is an effort to re-examine Tufts’ priorities as an institution.

“This is both a symbolic and material effort to [ask] … ‘Will we invest and build both the physical space as well as the social space to be welcoming of trans and gender-nonconforming folks?’” Kraus said.

Freeman echoed her support for the gender-neutral bathrooms. She, like Easton-Calabria, stated the long-term goal of creating multi-stall gender-neutral restrooms.

She said she hopes that through this change to the bathrooms, Tufts can become a national leader in conversations surrounding the rights of trans and non-binary students. She emphasized the importance of listening to student input.

“Students have been the leaders in creating pathways to what they want to see on campus,” Freeman wrote. “Access to restrooms is a right, especially to the community that we are trying to foster here at Tufts.”