By Chace Pulley and Eve Blondeau-Elman
When students arrived at Haverford this year, they found new all gender bathrooms in buildings all around campus. The All Gender Bathroom Initiative started last summer after the President’s Office heard feedback from the Council for Diversity and Inclusion about the lack of safe spaces for queer and trans* students on campus. It became a hot topic last spring when a resolution passed at Special Plenary in the early hours of the morning, confirming the student body’s support for the initiative.
Brett Hungar ‘21 and Devi Namboodiri ‘21, the two students who brought the resolution to Special Plenary, were originally inspired by the Queer Agenda—an anonymous group that, last winter, replaced all the gendered bathroom signage around campus with the words “Gender Neutral” to make a powerful political statement about the lack of all gender bathrooms on campus.
“The early December actions by the Queer Agenda definitely acted as an impetus for this resolution,” Hungar said.
Namboodiri also recalled a personal anecdote that roused her interest in this issue. “I was in Stokes waiting for a chemistry class when I saw one of my friends running,” she said. “ I said ‘Oh hi’ and they said, ‘Oh sorry I can’t talk now I’m just trying to go to the bathroom.’ [And so I asked] ‘Why are you going downstairs?’ and they were saying it was the only place with gender-neutral bathrooms in the building.”
The powerful memory stuck with her, and months later, when she and Hungar were brainstorming Special Plenary resolution ideas, they realized that something needed to be done to help make queer and trans* students feel safer on campus.
“It is something that is very important to trans and queer students and it is something that is a very easy and simple step to take—Bryn Mawr has had gender neutral bathrooms for a long time and a lot of other schools and government facilities are moving in that direction,” Hungar said.
At the time of the resolution writing, however, the President’s Office had already been working on adding all gender bathrooms to all facility and academic building on campus. Thanks to the show of student support after Special Plenary, the issue has become all the more pressing.
“Our office was already working on this issue and getting the ball rolling but it was a terrific show of support from the student body. It was tremendously helpful to see this show of support and the funding that was pledged for it—it’s an incredibly expensive project,” said Franklyn Cantor, Special Assistant to the President, who is heading the initiative.
He continued: “As a result of the plenary resolution, Students’ Council committed to providing funding as well. So the projects that are underway, and will be underway by the end of this year, will be funded by our office and by Students’ Council.” The President’s Office has a small amount of discretionary funding, but as Cantor joked, “I can say for anyone who has ever been part of a bathroom remodel it’s super expensive!”
After all, a lot goes into converting an old stall and making it all gender. In some cases, all that’s needed is new signage, but in other cases, the entire bathroom needs renovating. The President’s Office is still figuring out the best way to implement these new bathrooms. “We don’t have a firm template. Every space is different. The decision to remove or stall off urinals is a great example of something we are still working on,” Cantor said.
Julia Blake ‘19, the senior representative on Students’ Council (SC), discussed the role of SC in the current initiative.
“The biggest project we’re focusing on right now, led by Franklyn in the President’s Office, is putting a gender-neutral bathroom in the lobby of the GIAC,” Blake said. “We have the numbers for that project, and so now it’s deciding how much money we can give and how much money can come from the President’s Office to fund that project.”
As for how SC will make its contribution to the project, Blake said that the group is considering several options. She said that they are looking at the $600,000 Student Activities Fund, as well as the $30,000 Facilities Fund, which is an allocation to students every year to “come up with different projects on campus that enhance different areas that are unused right now, and enhance student life in that way.”
With funding mainly secured, Cantor and the rest of the President’s Office are working diligently towards their goal of ensuring that there are easily accessible all gender bathrooms throughout campus. Next up is the GIAC which, if all goes according to plan, will be home to a new all gender bathroom by the beginning of 2019. By next semester, only Chase and Founders will not have a gender neutral bathroom.
Both Hungar and Namboodiri are deeply grateful for the President’s Office’s hard work.
“I had no idea [building all gender bathrooms] would be so fast, coming back this year I was very happy about it. Yet, especially for LGBTQ+ students—I don’t want to speak for them though—I know that there is never enough. But I know the President’s Office is doing everything they can. These are old building and there is a lot going into it,” Namboodiri said.
While more all-gender bathrooms have now been created, there is still a long ways to go: many of the interiors have not changed at all, with some previous male bathrooms not even providing sanitary disposal bags. As Sam Danish ‘20 said, “It’s changed reality for myself and other trans folk’s daily experiences. But it’s really easy to change a sign, it will take a lot more money, time and other resources to fully improve the conditions for trans folks on this campus.”