Supported by senior staff members of the administration, a small group of students has spearheaded the movement to make bathrooms on campus welcoming to the transgender community. The short term goal of all involved is to remove gender designation from all single-use bathrooms by replacing the male or female signs with a single-user bathroom sign.
“As far as I can tell, all we need to do is unscrew some signs and order some new plaques,” said Katie Creel ’10, a member of the Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender Queer (LGBTQ) Advisory Board who was instrumental in getting this movement off the ground. There are many opportunities to make these designation changes without costly renovations, explained Steve Klass, vice president for operations, who has taken up the project. Hopkins Hall, for instance, has eight single-stall restrooms, all of which are currently marked for gender.
While no timetable has been set for this first step, many hope that they will see changes before the beginning of the next school year. The LGBTQ Advisory Board has been discussing gender-neutral restrooms for several years, according to Ruth Harrison, director of Health Services and a member of the board. “I’m so happy to see it moving,” she said.
The term “transgender” encompasses a wide spectrum of gender identities, including those who identify with a gender not consistent with their biological sex and those who are gender-queer and do not identify with one gender, Creel explained. “No matter which restroom some individuals choose, they may be asked what they’re doing there or feel uncomfortable being there,” she said.
Creel noted that one criticism she has heard in response to the call for gender-neutral bathrooms is that there is no problem to be fixed. “Given that we’re a small school, it may be surprising statistically that we have more than one or two individuals,” Creel said. “But we do.”
Harrison concurred. “There is not a lot of visibility for the transgendered community,” she said. “Not many are out, but the population is growing.”
The College’s non-discrimination statement includes “gender expression” , and those spearheading changes feel that gender-neutral bathrooms are a necessity if the College wants to be true to this claim. “In order for Williams to live up to that, we need to provide students, faculty, and staff with bathrooms that they can use and feel comfortable in,” Creel said.
Kareem Khubchandani, queer life coordinator, explained that at a queer town hall meeting this year, some transgenders expressed that the places where they felt most comfortable were Mezze and Tunnel City, where there are several single-stall bathrooms with no gender designation. “They don’t have to identify as anything or label themselves,” he said. “That is just one example of how they find their safe spaces.”
Jack Kling ’09, another student working on this initiative, pointed out that transgender faculty are potentially the most affected by the lack of gender-neutral bathrooms because they do not have access to the dorm spaces, most of which have non-designated restrooms.
Especially when it comes to the recruitment of prospective students, the College is not on par with other institutions, according to Khubchandani. “Williams doesn’t offer at least one gender-neutral bathroom in each building,” he said. “We’re competing for people who might be interested in our campus but might feel a little marginalized by our facilities.”
Creel agreed. “Gender-neutral bathrooms are not ground-breaking,” she said. “Williams is behind the curve.”
While removing gender designation from single-stall restrooms is the first priority, students and staff involved expressed a desire to have gender-neutral restrooms in all buildings as well as modifications to locker rooms. “In the long term, I would like to see new and renovated buildings have gender-neutral bathrooms,” Khubchandani. “I’d like to see privacy in locker rooms as well, for those who are not comfortable changing or showering in front of other people. The locker room can be a really uncomfortable place for a lot of people.”
Changes beyond switching signs on single-use restrooms will require significant planning and effort. “More work has to be done in terms of thinking about how, if at all, we can make similar accommodations in places like Paresky that weren’t designed with single-user rest rooms,” Klass said.