Gender-Neutral Bathrooms Mark Key Step Forward

The new gender-neutral bathrooms around campus are a triumph of student activism. Last semester, I was thrilled to receive an email from Title IX Coordinator and Director of Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion Rebecca Mosely asking if I would like to participate in a meeting about designating more bathrooms in academic buildings as gender neutral.

For years, transgender students have protested the lack of accessible bathrooms around campus. There were many buildings on campus, including Stevenson Dining Hall and King Building, that didn’t have a single gender-neutral bathroom. Although Oberlin’s policy states that students can use whatever bathroom fits their gender identity best, this still makes many bathrooms inaccessible to non-binary folks and those questioning their gender identity. Going to the bathroom shouldn’t be a stressful experience. Using the bathroom is a universal human experience and should therefore be universally accessible and safe. No student should have to travel to another building just to use a bathroom that they are comfortable with.

In the past month, vast improvements have been made. Now, Carnegie, Bibbins, Robertson, Finney, Hales Gymnasium, King, Peters, Rice, the Science Center, Severance, Stevenson, and Wright all have gender-neutral bathrooms. Some buildings, most notably the Adam Joseph Lewis Center, still do not have any because of Ohio building codes — which state that if there are only two multi-use bathrooms in a building, they have to have gender designations. However, Oberlin’s decision to designate more bathrooms as gender neutral has a profoundly positive impact on transgender students.

Part of this positive impact arises from the level of student involvement. The meeting Mosely invited me to included several other transgender students. We discussed which buildings needed bathrooms the most, as well as smaller details such as signage. For example, we agreed that all of the single-use bathrooms in Rice should be gender-neutral, despite professor protests. As one of the other students at the meeting put it, single-use bathrooms are the gender of the person inside them.

I deeply appreciate the gender-neutral sign design. Most gender neutral bathrooms are identified with the usual symbols used to designate male and female. Since most gender-neutral bathrooms are single-use and handicap-accessible, these symbols are often accompanied with the usual picture of a wheelchair. As a disabled non-binary person, I joke that “wheelchair” must be my gender identity. The new signs avoid this by simply showing what type of facilities are available — a toilet and/or a urinal.

Furthermore, by designating multi-use restrooms as gender neutral, the College is making a firm statement that transgender people are not dangerous in bathrooms. Most of the debate concerning transgender people using bathrooms centers around the idea that trans people, especially trans women, will be a danger to those in the bathroom. By having multi-use gender-neutral bathrooms in academic buildings, some of which will inevitably be used by people other than Oberlin students and faculty, the College shows the world that gender-neutral bathrooms are perfectly safe and make public places far more accessible.

The College should have made this change far earlier, but I’m grateful that the administration finally took these steps forward. Oberlin has been at the forefront of trans rights and safety; other colleges and universities learn from how Oberlin approaches transgender issues. By including trans students in the decision-making process and by making these changes in public buildings, Oberlin prioritized trans students’ needs over public opinion. This is how we dismantle systems of oppression: one flush at a time.