The Augustana Gender and Sexuality Alliance (GSA) is pushing for more gender-inclusive bathrooms on campus this year.
The club is focusing its efforts on key areas of campus, notably Solberg Hall and the humanities building.
“We have a few gender-neutral bathrooms,” Whitney Brown, associate director of Campus Life, said. “They’re labeled ‘all-gender’ restrooms in the residence halls, [and] most of them are on the first floors of the building.”
Josh Jaton, president of GSA, explained that many bathrooms used to be single-occupancy restrooms and were made gender-neutral over the past few years. This is true of almost every dorm hall on campus.
“Grandskou and Stavig [have] single stall[s],” Jaton said. “Some of the first-year dorms do not.”
The adjustment is in line with what universities are moving toward nationwide. According to TIME, more than 150 U.S. colleges and universities have converted single-occupancy bathrooms into all-gender restrooms on campus.
GSA vice president Skylar Allen said that there is still more to do at Augustana, particularly with the single-occupancy bathroom on the first floor of Solberg Hall.
“[Our] intention is for it to be gender-neutral,” Allen said.
However, Brown says that there are roadblocks to a gender-neutral bathroom project in Solberg, including privacy and fire safety concerns.
“From the residence hall standpoint, we have bathrooms that don’t necessarily lock, and we want to make sure there’s some privacy in an all-gender restroom option,” Brown said. “It falls
under some fire safety rules [too]. If it was created without a lock, it makes it somewhat difficult to change that door.”
Corey Kopp, director of Campus Life, explained that to obtain the door width necessary for a fire-rated lock, the university would have to buy two new doors for each of the doorways leading to the single-occupancy bathroom in Solberg. The cost of adding the new doors with the fire-rated locks could cost up to $1,000, which is the primary reason the department has held off on the project.
But Kopp says because the issue is being raised again this year, there is a higher chance that adjustments will be made sooner than later.
“It may be time to bring it up again,” said Kopp. “We’ve had success with gender-neutral bathrooms and could make the change [in Solberg Hall] pretty easily.”
With that project down the pipeline, Jaton said GSA still has its eyes on the humanities building.
“We have had discussions about making the concourse bathroom [on the first floor of the humanities] a gender-neutral bathroom,” Jaton said. “That would be the best location, not only for students and being accessible [for them], but for community members as well. [It] would be cool for us to set an example.”
This would make both bathrooms in the atrium hallway of the humanities gender-neutral. The top two floors of the humanities building would remain gendered.
“It’s not as much of a problem logistically as it is culturally,” Jaton said. “Not only Augustana, but I would hope that really any community, would embrace the fact that it’s just a bathroom. It’s just stalls. Individuals need to trust each other and mind their own business in the bathroom space.”
Students who frequent the humanities building are unsure about the change, but ultimately feel that the adjustment would be manageable.
“I don’t have anything against that notion,” said Hosea Kost, a junior majoring in media studies and sports management. “It’s just [about] getting used to it. It’s not like every bathroom is being affected.”
Megan Lindely, a senior communications major, had a different perspective.
“I’ve used an all-gender bathroom before, and yes, it does make me uncomfortable,” Lindely said. “[But] I get to be comfortable in basically every bathroom everywhere, so if people [are] more comfortable using [a gender-neutral bathroom], then I’ll just go up a flight of stairs [to the gendered bathrooms in the Humanities].”
Brown also noted that although almost every residence hall has a gender-neutral bathroom, gender-neutral showers are not as widespread.
“[Halls are] not inclusive of a [gender-neutral] shower but they have a toilet and sink, and those are available for everyone,” Brown said. “We have a fully lockable all-gender bathroom with a shower in Tuve Hall, which is where our flexible housing floor is.”
Jaton said that the current situation suffices but believes that as the GSA adds more group members each year, accommodations will need to become more widespread.
“When I came in as a first-year student, the GSA consisted of a fifth-year student, one of his friends, and myself,” Jaton said. “This year, we seem to have about twenty-five attending members at our meetings. Seeing that growth has been huge for us.”
This growth has not gone unnoticed by the administration.
“We always reevaluate every year,” Brown said. “[We’ll] take a look at if there can be additional spaces and some changes we can make to facilities. We just want to continue to improve on how we’re meeting the needs for students.”