College Union accommodates wider scope of students with all-gender bathroom

The final step in creating the MacVittie College Union’s first gender-inclusive bathroom was completed on Oct. 23 when Facilities Services changed the sign denoting what had previously been a men’s restroom on the first floor of the Union to a sign that reads “all-gender bathroom.” Aside from the Union bathroom, which is located in room 106, gender-inclusive bathrooms—bathrooms with an outer lock and at least one stall— currently exist in Lauderdale Health Center, Schrader Hall and Merritt Athletic Center. According to Director of Student Life Chip Matthews, the Union bathroom has been in the works for years, and a lock was installed on the door this summer.

“I think that it’s very important that the College Union be a space that is safe, that is inclusive,” Matthews said. “It was brought to my attention that there was not a bathroom where people who don’t necessarily identify with any specific gender could feel safe entering … while this isn’t the most ideal solution, it is something that will fit the bill.”

Associate professor of English Alice Rutkowski and Residence Director of Onondaga Hall Ray FeDora formed the LGBTQ Issues Working Group composed of faculty, staff and students in fall 2013 to address the lack of gender-inclusive restrooms on campus, among other issues. The committee submitted a proposal authored by Rutkowski and chemistry stockroom manager Daniel Jacques to Interim President Carol Long on Oct. 15 to ultimately add all-gender bathrooms to every on-campus building.

According to the proposal, “A lack of gender-inclusive restroom access directly impacts students’ physical and mental well-being and health through an increase of physical, academic and mental health risks.”

The proposal further emphasizes that access to gender-inclusive bathrooms is not just important for people who are transgender but also for “people who are intersex, people with disabilities and their caregivers and families.”

While Matthews said that the Union bathroom is not “totally accessible” in that the door is not the proper width to accommodate a wheelchair, it does not have an automatic door opener and all of the fixtures are not compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act, Rutkowski stated that the conversion of the bathroom “is very encouraging.”

Matthews’ initiative to convert the Union bathroom to all-gender was unrelated to the Working Group proposal. It is mentioned in the proposal, however, as a “tier three” restroom for conversion because changing the particular restroom to all-gender results in a net loss of toilets. The Union restroom is not a single stall bathroom.

The proposal also advocates for “tier one” changes, focusing on creating an official campus map designating all current gender-inclusive restrooms and “tier two” changes that include converting all single stall restrooms into gender-inclusive restrooms with proper signage and including all-gender restrooms in newly constructed buildings. The Integrated Science Center, Bailey Hall and Mary Jemison and Letchworth dining halls are the most problematic buildings for incorporating such restrooms due to their preponderance of larger bathrooms with more stalls, according to the proposal.

Alongside its efforts to improve bathroom availability, the Working Group is also partnered with Pride Alliance in an effort to hire a faculty member specifically dedicated to LGBTQ-plus issues and advocacy similar to those working at comparable colleges like SUNY Oswego. The group has also begun an initiative through a grant from the President’s Office to create “Safe Zones” for LGBTQ-plus students across campus by training students, faculty and entire departments in basic vocabulary and best practices of allies.

President of Pride Alliance senior Bella Rabinovich said that following the positive student responses to recent transgender awareness programming, student advocates are determined to improve conditions.

“We’re trying to really work with administration to make changes because after ‘Trans? Fine by me,’ we saw that [students] really care,” Rabinovich said. “We’re going to use that to try and get the resources that we need and that students need that we’ve seen are just lacking in Geneseo.”

While the Working Group has not received any official feedback on the all-gender restroom proposal following its meeting with Long, Vice President for Student and Campus Life Robert Bonfiglio said that administrators have discussed it at recent President’s Cabinet meetings, and that the upcoming athletic stadium is slated to include a gender-inclusive bathroom.

“Nothing moves as quickly as any of us would like … but I think that in time the students will see in our bathrooms, and in our residence halls too, a greater, more widespread expression of gender neutrality and gender inclusiveness,” he said.