By Piper Sartison
Elm Staff Writer
Washington College announced its commitment to implement gender-neutral bathrooms in every academic building on campus in a Feb. 11 email from the President’s Office.
The expansion responds to the needs of a growing community of transgender and gender nonbinary students, according to Diversity Committee Co-Chair and Assistant Professor of Mathematics Dr. Emerald Stacy.
Transgender students themselves have advocated for such an expansion, according to President of Supporting All Gender Expressions senior Rian Van Tassel. They have communicated these proposals with facility managers, advisors, and professors.
“It’s hard to communicate to some of the professors when there is no bathroom that I feel comfortable with in the building. [There’s] just been a lot of conversations,” Van Tassell said.
While the official goal is to include a gender-neutral bathroom in every campus facility, Dr. Stacy said, “In a perfect world, what we would like is for all first-floor restrooms to be gender neutral. That way everybody will know where they are in each building.”
Knowing there is a bathroom which one feels comfortable using nearby helps students feel safe and welcomed, according to Dr. Stacy.
“If you were in an academic building and you literally [couldn’t] go to the bathroom in that building, that is going to make you feel unwelcome,” Dr. Stacy said.
This discomfort was voiced by Van Tassell, who said that some students do not feel comfortable using bathrooms other than the ones in their dorms.
Oftentimes, students will even leave their classes or other areas just to use the bathrooms in their residence.
“It’s really rough because I know a lot of people who have chronic health issues too. So, if they have to use the bathroom, they have to leave class completely because they have to go find some place that accommodates them,” Van Tassell said.
The Diversity Committee is planning for the gender-neutral bathrooms to be ready by the upcoming fall semester, when more students are on campus.
This proposal does require a mild level of construction in order to change signs and structures within the bathrooms.
The gender-neutral bathrooms are currently only installed in Hodson Hall, the Rose O’Neill Literary House, some residence buildings, and the Benjamin Johnson Fitness Center.
Dr. Stacy is unsure when the construction process will begin; however, she hopes it will start while students are in online class.
The Feb. 11 email said the expansion would occur throughout the spring 2021 semester.
Dr. Stacy hopes “that by students knowing what’s going on [with the gender-neutral bathrooms], students can put additional pressure on the school.”
This project is one of several gender-inclusive initiatives within the Diversity Committee, including streamlining the process of ensuring that students’ records contain their chosen names.
“We want to try to set up a system that protects the students as much as we can while not outing them to their parents,” Dr. Stacy said.
When the installation of gender-neutral bathrooms will occur is unknown; Dr. Stacy said this proposal has been discussed for quite some time and the initiative hopes for it to come to reality by next semester.
Featured Photo caption: One first-floor bathroom in Hodson Hall Commons is gender-neutral, however, many buildings across campus lack gender-inclusive bathrooms. A new initiative by the Diversity Committee hopes to address that dearth throughout the spring 2021 semester. Photo by Ben Wang.