Restrooms reassigned for Holidays in Hudson
On Dec. 2 and Dec. 3, Willamette University held the longstanding winter time event, Holidays in Hudson. The event, previously called Christmas in Hudson, features the Chamber Choir and Voice, singing holiday songs in a cheerfully, seasonally decorated Hudson Hall. The concert differed from the past in that there was no audience sing-along and the performers were all masked. Though the event itself was received positively, there were concerns raised by students as the primary gender-neutral bathrooms in the building had been switched to binary, gender segregated ones instead.
A video of the changed signage on the restrooms circulated on social media, along with a written out statement. The statement explains what change was made, describing it as a “University-Sanctioned decision made by the deans” without students being involved with or informed of the change. The post raises concern for ‘nonconforming’ student performers, saying that they, “were forced to choose between their psychological safety and their required performance in order to pass the class”.
In an email forwarded to music students, staff and faculty, Dean of the College of Arts and Science Ruth Feingold, explained the decision. She cited the layout of the building as having only two large restrooms, and said that this fact, “has created difficulties for some other users of the building, as we were left with no gender-restricted restrooms. Without these, we are not being inclusive and welcoming of some guests to our campus, nor providing them with spaces in which they feel safe.” Feingold continued that this was a temporary change saying, “Given the demographics of attendance at some events in Hudson (in some cases, those over 65 outnumber those under 25 by a factor of 20 to 1), we made the decision to temporarily reassign available restrooms in Rogers. During these few events, the larger spaces are being designated F or M, while two formerly private single-user restrooms nearby will become public all-gender rooms.” Feingold said that the lack of communication with student performers was “not ideal” and that she took responsibility for “not thinking of it” beforehand, promising students that “It won’t happen again.”
In an interview following the email, Feingold clarified further. The decision to temporarily change the signage had been made that week, in consultation with Andrea Hugmeyer, the staff chair of the university’s Transgender Advocacy Committee and Director of the Gender Resource and Advocacy Center. Two options were proposed: having the large bathrooms be male/female with the single occupant ones being all-gender, or having one female bathroom and one all-gender bathroom. Feingold said that the change was in response to feedback from previous concerts and family weekend. “People talk about psychological safety… and for people who are accustomed to a single gender environment where they are engaged in intimate actions then those actions will feel unsafe.”
On the reference to age demographics in the email Feingold explained the connection, “It was our older patrons who said that they wanted to have single sex restrooms… and our older patrons also are somewhat slower moving. Sometimes they have more mobility challenges, they may have incontinence challenges, and I don’t mean to assume that everybody who is elderly has those, but for that reason having the multi-stall restrooms single sex for those few events seems to make sense.” Feingold also referenced that factors beyond age can have an impact, “religion for example is another important one… people from more conservative religious traditions, including Islam, have prohibitions against mixing of gender such that that would create difficulty for them.”
Feingold acknowledged that the procedure for future events was still being worked out, and that she expected to learn more about student’s concerns at the Trans Advocacy Town Hall on Dec. 7.