Student Senate Works on Bringing More Gender-Neutral Bathrooms to Campus

 All gender bathroom signage in Esther Raushenbush Library’s downstairs restrooms. Photo credit: Andrea Cantor

All gender bathroom signage in Esther Raushenbush Library’s downstairs restrooms. Photo credit: Andrea Cantor

Whenever  Micha Dugan (‘19) begins to approach the nearest restroom, before swinging open the first door that they see is labeled as such, they halt before it. Looking at the sign on the door, Dugan, who identifies as non-binary and genderfluid, thinks: “Am I welcome here?”

After years of dialogue on the lack of gender-neutral restrooms on campus - and years of students like Dugan, a co-chair of TransAction, expressing their concerns - it seems progress might be on the horizon. Senate chair Leonardo Rocchiccioli (’18) introduced the issue at a Student Senate meeting on Sept. 22. The executive committee identified six crucial, “overarching goals,” one of which was to make all, or at least more, restrooms on campus gender-neutral. Student Senate continued to discuss their plan to achieve the objective throughout the fall semester.

“As a first step we want to make the bathrooms that work effectively as gender-neutral bathrooms, that are single stall bathrooms, make those officially and formally gender-neutral,” Rocchiccioli said. “After that we want to have a conversation about increasing the number of gender-neutral bathrooms on campus.”

The library, MacCracken, the Science Center, and the Pub, among other buildings, have single occupancy restrooms with gender-neutral signage. Titsworth Lecture Hall was designed to have two ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) UNISEX restrooms and ADA compliant signage. According to Assistant Vice President for Facilities Mo Gallagher, as the college moves forward in new construction or renovation, the feasibility of ADA accessible bathrooms will continue to be considered.

As students have expressed that the gender-neutral signage may be not be as clear as it could be (Rocchiccioli noted that the existing ones were made “ad hoc”), one goal that Student Senate is discussing with Gallagher is sign redevelopment.

“Mo suggested that we come up with signage that seemed to be the most inclusive and replacing those bathrooms that are essentially gender-neutral right now with the new signage to make it formally more inclusive,” Rocchiccioli said.

Though the aforementioned buildings do have gender-neutral restrooms, other buildings that do not include Heimbold and Westlands, the latter of which Rocchiccioli said he finds especially concerning.

“Westlands is so important because it is our flagship building,” he said. “It is the first thing people see when they come to campus and it is so odd that we pride ourselves as a queer-friendly school and then they see ‘men, women.’  That was one of the big reasons I thought this was important, because people walk onto this campus and we say ‘We have a place for you here,’ but then it is like ‘Yeah, right, I don’t even have a place to go pee.’”

A concern that came up from some senators in actualizing the proposal was hesitation in abandoning all single-gender restrooms for fear of increased risk of sexual assault. Senators discussed this and similar concerns at meetings, according to the senate minutes.

Rocchiccioli clarified this concern, saying, “What they were talking about was that some people find a safe space in the bathroom and that they wouldn’t want to disturb that, and by safe space I mean if it is someone who has been assaulted, they don’t want to encounter the assailant in the bathroom."

The problem may be curtailed with implementation of single occupancy gender-neutral restrooms, but such would be difficult in buildings where single occupancy restrooms are not already existent.

Rocchiccioli said he believes that senate’s collaboration with the college to achieve this goal will turn into “tangible work in the next semester.” Dugan noted they are hopeful that the college and senate will succeed in their work.

“Changing signage and taking steps to make Sarah Lawrence a more gender affirming space will take time, effort, and likely some money,” Dugan said. “But this is a small, small cost in comparison to the gain.”

Victoria Mycue '20 and Andrea Cantor '17