After a few sparse sign changes in the library last semester, various staff and faculty have started a campus-wide initiative to introduce official all-gender bathrooms to a majority of Wheaton’s academic, athletic and administrative buildings. A total of 62 single-use bathrooms will be affected.
The initiative was taken in order to “address some questions from those who feel marginalized and biased,” according to the Assistant Vice President of Business Services and Physical Plant John Sullivan. Several campus faculty and staff members are currently collaborating on the project, including Director of Title IX Compliance Rachael Pauze, Dean Kate Kenny, LIS, the Student Affairs Office, Business Services and the Physical Plant staff.
Many of these bathrooms are single-use, multi-purpose locking bathrooms in residential halls and administrative buildings that are currently being used as co-ed facilities. Multi-stall bathrooms and locker rooms will not be affected by the current project. “Most buildings, if not all had a single-use, multi-purpose bathroom already there,” said Pauze.
Discussions about inclusive bathroom spaces began when the previous Wheaton administration had released a “Dear Colleague” letter to the student body. The letter encouraged transgender people to use the bathroom of their choice, as well as advocate for at least one all-gender bathroom in every building and facility on campus, according to Pauze.
The all-gender bathroom project, however, officially started as a self-initiated discussion between several students and library staff last fall semester. The library had replaced a select few of their bathroom signs to indicate the transition for co-ed to all-gender bathrooms. Due to all-gender incompatible spaces, the signs were taken down later that semester.
“Although we were glad and supported the staff taking those initiatives, it became a bit problematic with what we were hearing,” said Pauze. She stated that said bathroom had a functional urinal in it, which if left in an all-gender facility could lead to previously avoidable Title IX cases.
An inventory was taken of the bathrooms in every building on campus in the fall semester by the Physical Plant staff and all-gender bathroom signage was finalized over winter break. The sign stock will arrive early to mid Feb., and all projected bathroom signs will be installed by the end of the semester under ADA requirements, according to Sullivan.
All buildings on campus will have at least one all-gender bathroom except for Watson Fine Arts and Meneely Hall, since the bathrooms in these buildings would require long-term construction that could add up to “five figure investments,” according to Sullivan.
Although the all-gender bathrooms have not created controversy, Pauze hopes that they open up possible dialogue for possible next steps after the completion of the project. “Certainly if it spurs some conversation and dialogue and there’s concerns about it or conversations then I think that can only be a good thing,” she said. “We can take that into account as we move forward with other plans, like potentially converting other bathrooms.”
“I’m glad that we’re getting the information out there,” said Sullivan. “It’ll be part of hopefully making people more comfortable to come here to Wheaton and one step closer to make those who are here feel less excluded.”