Gender neutral bathrooms and the students that got us here
The first floor of the University Center (UC) now has two gender neutral bathrooms open to students and community members alike. But that wasn’t always the case. Up until the beginning of this school year, both restrooms on the first floor of the UC were gendered, with one “men’s” room and one “women’s” room. This change was brought about by the actions and efforts of many Willamette University students and staff.
Asher Wolf Cutler (‘22), a member of the Trans* Advocacy Committee, was instrumental in the process of trying to get gender neutral bathrooms in the UC. They explained some of the work their work they did last year:
“I would have to show up to a meeting and talk to people about fear and misunderstanding and give a basic explanation about gender. I did everything I could and begged these people to care about us.” The Trans Advocacy Committee meetings included Jade Aguilar, Vice President of Equity, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI), Chaplin Karen Wood, Andrea Doyle Hugmeyer, Director of the Gender Resource and Advocacy Center (GRAC) and other WU students.
“During these meetings, I stressed to the people brought in for construction that it would be great if there could be two gender neutral bathrooms on UC first,” said Cutler. “I know some people need gendered bathrooms for religious purposes but it’s good that there are now two all-gender restrooms available.”
Julian (‘19), who was an intern at the GRAC last year, also shared their actions in trying to make WU a more inclusive space. They joined the Trans Advocacy Committee at the start of the spring 2019 semester.
“At that point, the plan to do construction was already underway, so we talked about how the updated bathrooms would look. This included discussing what this process would look like, including what signs to use and if there would be only one bathroom,” says Julian.
Their work at the GRAC also included improving LGBTQ+ resources on Willamette’s website.
They explained, “The resources for trans students were difficult to find and there wasn’t a lot of institutional support. I sought to make change by fixing the website so that students have a functional site to go to.”
While Cutler and Julian were both members of the Trans Advocacy Committee, other students made change in different ways. Emmett Blaney (‘20) took action directly. He described the ways he stepped up to get gender neutral bathrooms in the UC.
“I pestered administrators and was civilly disobedient. I took down the bathroom signs when I wasn’t supposed to and got in trouble with an administrator for this. I did this to show the administration that it wouldn’t be easy to ignore the needs of trans students.”
Blaney explained, “It got on my nerves, so I kept taking the signs down. I was threatened with punishment for damage to campus property. Several other students joined in and some of them were called in to the office or addressed by the administrator in their place of work, which could lead to that person possibly getting outed.”
Blaney noted that Bella Medina (‘21) also helped to spread the word about the signs on the bathroom. They did this through putting information around campus and through their social media.
After a lot of hard work and effort, the UC now finally has gender neutral bathrooms. So, the University is open to change but there are still many more steps to take to make the school an inclusive space.
When asked about these steps, Cutler suggested, “I think having better ways of respecting all trans students, especially those who are still figuring out how to communicate what they want and be heard. I also think that more training for staff and faculty could help, as well as more safe spaces.”
Julian suggested, “Being more upfront about what resources are available for trans students and being more competent about these issues.” Blaney suggested increasing the frequency and accessibility of certain resources, especially all-gender restrooms.
And when it comes time for other students to make change, all three agreed that it’s important not to give up if it’s tiring. Being focused on why students strive for change in the first place is also extremely important. Making the world a more inclusive space is not easy but it can be done, even through small acts of activism like the ones Cutler, Blaney and Julian did.