As of Monday, the first-floor bathrooms in Meredith will now be gender-inclusive. Bathrooms on the upper and lower floors of Meredith will remain gendered.
The first gender-inclusive bathroom on campus was created in Olmsted in 2016. Since then, Drake has been in the process of adding and converting bathrooms all over campus.
“Meredith quickly came to mind for several reasons. One, it is used by lots of people across different majors,” Assistant Dean of Students Tony Tyler said. “Also, a lot of visitors from outside of campus use Meredith. And so that’s totally important since it’s one of our more public-facing buildings on campus.”
Dean of the School of Journalism and Mass Communication, Kathleen Richardson, was contacted by Tony Tyler and student Autumn Ellisor about the project last fall. Richardson says she consulted with numerous students and faculty and received only positive responses.
“In the School of Journalism and Mass Communication, we aspire to create an environment that is welcoming and inclusive of everybody,” Richardson said. “For individuals who don’t feel comfortable using a gendered restroom, we want to be able to make sure that they feel welcome in our building”
For Tyler, the issue boils down to giving every individual access to public space.
“What people sometimes forget about discussions around restrooms is that the discussion about restrooms is actually a discussion about who gets to be in public. By having access to convenient restrooms that you would feel safe and comfortable using, you have access to public space,” Tyler said. “If you don’t have access to those restrooms, your day becomes about planning, ‘How can I get to a restroom that I can use?’ Imagine if that was your experience in every public space.”
For Ellisor, who has served as a leader on this project, gender-inclusive bathrooms are important for transgender individuals and those who don’t fit inside the gender binary to feel safe and comfortable.
“As a gender-fluid person, it’s not that we can’t use either bathroom, it’s that we get stared at,” Ellisor said. “We get asked to leave, we get like treated like we’re not supposed to be in there.”
Inclusive bathrooms also benefit other members of the campus community. According to Tyler, the bathrooms in Meredith will also benefit families with children of a different gender, as well as individuals with disabilities who may have a caretaker.
Ellisor also sees the new project as an opportunity to reclaim bathrooms as a non-gendered space.
“Using a gendered bathroom is a constant reminder that just because my body appears feminine, I will always be a woman to everybody but me. That’s really painful for mental health reasons,” Ellisor said.
Although Ellisor sees the new bathrooms as progress, they understand there is still a lot of work to be done in terms of promoting inclusivity on campus.
“I want to emphasize that this is one small step until we get gender-inclusive restrooms on every floor of every building and gender-inclusive bathrooms on every floor of every residence hall. We aren’t done,” Ellisor said. “We’re just gonna kind of keep on pushing until that is achieved.”