Gender-neutral bathrooms required for a tolerant University

By Jessie Webster

I’ve fallen in love with two college campuses during the course of my post-high school career.

First, Mount Holyoke: a small, liberal arts women’s college in western Massachusetts, where you’re not a freshman but a first year—because down with the patriarchy.

As a member of the historic Seven Sisters colleges, Mount Holyoke has emerged at the forefront of the conversation about what it means to be a woman, or a man for that matter, and what happens when a person’s gender does not align with their sex.

I left Mount Holyoke after my freshman year to attend the University, for financial reasons and to be closer to where I grew up, in a northern suburb of Chicago.

However, my time at Mount Holyoke solidified for me that transgender students must be allowed to use the gender-specific facilities with which they identify.

The option of gender-neutral bathrooms was offered campus-wide at Mount Holyoke, even though it is technically a women’s college.

I have adored every minute of my time at the University, both academically and socially.

However, I am also a Caucasian, cisgender female, meaning that I have experienced a lot of privileges that minority or non-cisgender students may not have.

To make the University more enjoyable for everyone, the administration should require all public dorms and buildings on campus to provide gender-inclusive facilities.

Not only would the University be making an impact on the lives of transgender or gender-fluid students in the community, they would also be setting a positive example for school districts across Illinois.

On Monday, federal education authorities found that Township High School District 211 in Palatine, Ill. violated anti-discrimination laws when it did not allow a transgender student who identifies as a girl and participates on a girls’ sports team to change and shower in the girls’ locker room without restrictions.

In a statement to the New York Times, John Knight, who is representing the student, argued that any legitimate concerns from the district have been overshadowed by their attempts to challenge the student’s gender.

“The district’s insistence on separating my client from other students is blatant discrimination. Rather than approaching this issue with sensitivity and dignity, the district has attempted to justify its conduct by challenging my client’s identity as a girl,” Knight said. http://www.nytimes.com/2015/11/03/us/illinois-district-violated-transgender-students-rights-us-says.html?hp&action=click&pgtype=Homepage&module=first-column-region®ion=top-news&WT.nav=top-news&_r=0

In an interview, also with the New York Times, District Superintendent Dr. Daniel Cates said that the decision by federal education authorities to overrule the district’s decision has undone what Cates believes to be a fair compromise between the two parties. http://www.nytimes.com/2015/11/03/us/illinois-district-violated-transgender-students-rights-us-says.html?hp&action=click&pgtype=Homepage&module=first-column-region®ion=top-news&WT.nav=top-news&_r=0

Essentially, the student is allowed to participate on a women’s sports team, and to be in the locker room with the rest of the team. However, when it comes time to shower or change, the student must do so behind a curtain.

That’s not a compromise, it’s dehumanizing.

If members of the team are uncomfortable changing and showering in the same room as their transgender teammate, they should notify their coach that they would like to move to a more private area of the locker room. If any of the students need further accommodations, they should remove themselves to another room.

And the student in question should have just as much authority to make her own decision as to where she would like to change and shower. It’s very possible that as she undergoes surgical changes to her genitals, she would like some privacy as well.

High school students are old enough to make decisions about their personal space in these matters, and if some teammates would like to change separately from their transgender teammate, that needs to be respected.

However, transgender students are human too. District 211’s actions suggest that it is more focused on hiding its transgender student from sight than respecting her enough to make her own decisions as to what’s best for her physical and mental health, just like a cisgender student. And that’s disgraceful.

The University has made some improvement in the area of transgender rights.

Allen Hall, for instance, has a gender-inclusive wing, where all bathrooms are open to any gender. Wassaja Hall, which is opening in the fall of 2016, will have two clusters of gender-inclusive rooms. All bathrooms in the building will be individual use. http://housing.illinois.edu/living-options/special-options/gender-inclusive

But, there is still more to be done.

By offering gender-neutral bathrooms in only a few places at the University, are we truly ensuring transgender students equal rights everywhere on campus?

We must all remember that transgender students have just as much right to their body as everyone else. That means giving them the right to make their own decisions, whether it be in a high school locker room or a University bathroom.

The University has an opportunity to make positive change. It should take it.

Jessie is a junior in [email protected]