Gender-neutral bathrooms promote inclusivity on campus

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Gender-neutral bathrooms have made their debut on Lehigh’s campus as part of the construction and building update to Williams Hall.

The overall initiative is to have gender-neutral bathrooms across campus and for them to be a staple in all new buildings. Lehigh currently has some gender-inclusive restrooms on campus, including ones on the fourth floor of the University Center and the second floor of Linderman Library, but the hope is to make them more prevalent on campus.

“The initiative to place more gender-neutral bathrooms is necessary as our student body continues to work towards a more inclusive environment,” said Abby Farrell, ’15, an athlete ally.

Gender-neutral bathrooms are public restrooms that anybody can use regardless of gender identity or expression. They can come in the form of single-occupant restrooms with a lock on the door or multi-stalled restrooms, in which people of all genders can share the facilities.

Lehigh will be converting single bathrooms, which will affect over 50 bathrooms all over campus.

Lehigh is not the first school to make this step towards inclusivity.  A rapidly growing number of colleges and universities across the country are creating gender-neutral bathrooms. According to the Huffington Post, there are over 150 schools across the U.S. that have gender-neutral bathrooms, including New York University, as well as Tufts, Harvard, Yale, Princeton, Stanford and Columbia Universities.

While the demand for gender-neutral bathrooms may not be seen as prominent by the greater campus community, it certainly exists. For the transgender and gender non-conforming communities at Lehigh, using public bathrooms can create severe anxiety and contention both on and off campus.

“Having gender-inclusive bathrooms on Lehigh’s campus will give all students, regardless of gender identity or expression, the opportunity to use the bathroom without having to worry about being confronted by another student, staff or faculty member,” said Elizabeth Pines, ’16, the student program coordinator of the Pride Center for Sexual Orientation and Gender Diversity. “The anxieties transgender and gender nonconforming individuals feel in bathrooms is no way Lehigh-specific, but if we as a community can take steps to make members of the Lehigh community feel safer, then it is our responsibility to do so.”

The addition of gender-neutral bathrooms on campus aligns with one of the Student Affairs’ strategic goals to “foster an inclusive, equitable environment.”

“First, just the visibility of gender-inclusive bathrooms will signal to the Lehigh community that safety and comfort is important for the transgender and gender-nonconforming individuals on campus,” Pines said. “Second, I think people who have never thought of gender-inclusive bathrooms before will be forced to think about the privilege they have in not having to worry about using the restroom.”

Pines conducted a study last year to see how well the Lehigh community would respond to implementing gender-inclusive restrooms. The study consisted of 340 Lehigh students across various disciplines, ages and levels of knowledge of basic LGBT information. Results said that 63 percent of participants were not against gender-inclusive bathrooms, and those who were had a conception of gender-inclusive bathrooms as multi-stalled restrooms, which people of all genders can share. Additionally, 37 percent of participants believed that gender-inclusive bathrooms would help make Lehigh more inclusive.

The Pride Center for Sexual Orientation and Gender Diversity will be conducting an extensive educational campaign following the conversion of all on-campus bathrooms. The campaign will aim to raise awareness for students, staff and faculty regarding the reasons for the change, as well as shed light on underrepresented identities on Lehigh’s campus, including the transgender and gender-nonconforming communities.

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