BY JESS LYNK
The door swings open to reveal a single toilet, sink and paper towel holder.
It looks like an ordinary bathroom, but this one is different.
Outside the bathroom is a sign that says “All Gender Restroom.”
This bathroom is a significant milestone in Drake University history because it is the first gender -inclusive bathroom of many to come.
“If you are a trans student, or even if you aren’t, you are going to have a place to use the restroom and that seems like a pretty fundamental thing,” said Tony Tyler, director for student engagement equity and inclusion.
This new restroom effort stemmed from the campus climate survey, released back in February of 2015, in order to make all students feel welcome.
“Whenever you have restrooms that are gendered, transgender students can at times feel not safe to use the restrooms there,” Tyler said. “What that results in is that their learning and their living experiences are significantly hindered if they are not able to use the restroom.”
Efforts from multiple student groups, facilities and the Office of Student Inclusion, Involvement and Leadership all helped make this possible.
The bathroom was created by taking off the handicapped stall of the women’s bathroom in Olmsted and putting up a wall. This made room for a handicapped accessible, gender- inclusive bathroom.
This is one of the efforts that Tyler and the office of Student Involvement and Leadership made after deciding last semester to rebrand the Office of Student Involvement following the results of the student climate survey.
“As we looked at the data from that (the survey) and as we listened to the feedback that students were giving us throughout the semester, it became quickly evident that there needed to be response to what the students were saying they wanted and that they needed,” Tyler said.
This feedback led the office to be renamed the Student Inclusion Involvement and Leadership office and led to the creation of the Director for Student Engagement Equity and Inclusion position that Tyler holds now.
For Tyler, this transition has been nothing but positive.
“The vast majority of the bullet points of my job description start with the word advocate, which I love,” Tyler said.
Helping implement the gender-inclusive bathrooms was one of the ways Tyler has started to advocate for students.
Although the rebranding of the office happened recently, the effort to get gender-inclusive bathrooms have been in the works for almost two years, according to Tyler.
Along with Tyler, senior Jordan Mix, the outgoing president of Rainbow Union, also worked to create the bathroom.
“We don’t have a student body that is 100 percent cisgender and that falls within the gender binary,” Mix said. “So it is important for those students that don’t fall within the gender binary, or who don’t identify as cisgender, to have a space where they can comfortably go to the bathroom. I think that it is privilege that a lot of people take for granted.”
The creation of this bathroom was a collaboration between Rainbow Union, OneVoice, SAGE and the social justice living and learning community. These groups worked with facilities in order to make it happen.
They are currently in the works of identifying where there is more room for gender-inclusive bathrooms. According to Tyler, there are a lot of places on campus that already have bathrooms that can be converted to be gender-inclusive.
Eventually there will be a map online that students can access to see where the gender-inclusive bathrooms are.
Some students from all of these groups have been working on what they are calling a “transgender inclusion statement,” according to Tyler. The bathroom only plays into a part of these efforts that Mix and others are trying to implement on campus.
“The bathrooms were not necessarily separate from the rest of the policies at first,” Mix said.“To my knowledge, the whole policy has not been approved by this point, but we had extra funding and Tony runs the Olmsted building and was like ‘We have the space, we have the money, let’s just do it.’”
Some of the changes in the inclusion statement include: having gender-inclusive floors in resident halls, residence assistants having more intense training on gender-inclusive issues and training Public Safety on how to handle hate crimes regarding gender expression and inclusivity.
All of these initiatives would work to make sure all students feel included at Drake.
“We are consistently moving forward in confirming that all students are welcome here at Drake and that all students have a welcoming and supportive learning and living environment — no matter who you are,” Tyler said. “I think, as our awareness is heightening of people in our community who are trans, that we are moving forward and making sure they will be supported.”