The Office of Residential Life plans to remove gender-neutral signs outside restrooms in Keeney Quadrangle and reinstate gender-specific restrooms, a decision that has been met with pushback from some students.
Gender-neutral signs outside the restrooms were mistakenly put up during renovations this past summer, but ResLife plans to keep the facilities gender-specific, Senior Associate Dean for Residential Life Richard Bova wrote in an email to The Herald.
“There has been no change in the policy regarding restrooms in Keeney,” Bova wrote, adding that ResLife placed temporary gender-specific signs in the restrooms two weeks ago and will install permanent signs next week.
ResLife told Residential Peer Leaders in Keeney they could temporarily keep the restrooms gender-neutral until gender-specific signs are installed, said Malikah Williams ’16, a Women Peer Counselor who lives in Keeney.
“No one has complained about the gender-neutral restrooms in my unit,” Williams said, adding that the gender-specific temporary signs put up in Keeney are easily removable, since they are laminated and taped over the gender-neutral signs. “Students just rip them off,” she said.
ResLife’s decision to restore the restrooms’ gender-specific status “came out of the blue,” said Jordan Shaw ’15, a Keeney RPL. “I’m just really disappointed, and I think it’s a setback.”
Shaw said the residents of her first-year unit have not engaged in any inappropriate behavior in the gender-neutral restrooms and that the facilities have been a place of positive interaction. Gender-neutral restrooms are important for trans students and non-gender-conforming students, she said.
Shaw said students, including herself, have been removing the temporary signs because they do not oppose the restrooms’ temporary gender-neutral status.
Matthew Gill, a Community Director for Keeney, wrote in an email to The Herald that the gender-neutral signs were mistakenly placed and were not intended to signal a policy change.
Gender-neutral restrooms are a great way to facilitate a more inclusive environment among students, Williams said.
“You get to know who you’re really living with,” she said. “You’ll see them, you’ll be brushing your teeth with them, you can talk in the bathroom. That’s a source of community-building.”
Williams said she has worked to make sure her first-year residents are comfortable with the restrooms’ gender-neutral status and encourages them to share their concerns with RPLs. “We definitely gave them an option, and they know that it’s a possibility if they feel the need to make them gendered,” she said.
First-years might face certain issues with gender-neutral restrooms, Williams said, adding that some residents may feel more comfortable sharing a “safe space” with other students of their gender.
“It’s always about how students feel, and if there were a point where any of my residents ever felt uncomfortable we would have a conversation and try to remedy that problem,” she said.
Any policy change regarding Keeney restrooms will have to be reviewed by the Residential Council before ResLife can proceed with such a change, Director of Residential Experience Natalie Basil wrote in an email to The Herald.
“This has been the first year that I’ve heard that students in a first-year building are interested in having gender-neutral multi-use bathrooms at such a high level,” Basil wrote, adding that ResLife allows RPLs to share their concerns and advocate for their first-years’ needs.
Students’ removal of the temporary gender-specific signs has led many Keeney residents to use the restrooms on a gender-neutral basis, regardless of ResLife’s plans to reinstate gender-specific signs.
“It’s totally fine with me,” said Eliza Lukens-Day ’17. “It’s just different kinds of interactions you wouldn’t normally have.”
“Right now, all the bathrooms on my floor are completely gender-neutral,” said Christober Bey Music ’17. “It doesn’t bother me in the least bit.”
Keeney RPLs emailed first-years to inform them that permanent gender-specific signs will soon be installed, Music said, adding that the email included a survey with a question asking first-years whether they were comfortable with gender-neutral restrooms.
“It was a little weird to all of us at first,” Music said. “But as we went along with it, we became more comfortable with it.”
Some first-years said their floors currently have both gender-neutral and gender-specific restrooms. Kali Wyatt ’17 said she uses both the women’s restroom and gender-neutral restroom on her floor, but she added that she only showers in the gender-specific facility.
Williams said she believes ResLife could respond to first-years’ support for gender-neutral restrooms by making some facilities gender-neutral as test cases. She added that as a Keeney WPC, she believes the gender-neutral designation has helped her connect with her first-years. “I enjoy having the gender-neutral restrooms because I do get to interact with my residents more.”