All-gender bathrooms arrived on MCTC campus over the summer in an effort to promote inclusiveness, thanks to the work of faculty and students.
In August, plaques replaced paper signs by the facilities department claiming that some of the restrooms on campus were welcome to any gender, some of which were already single-stall.
Dr. Jay Williams, interim executive director of diversity, said “It’s about symbolic affirmation.” People want to know they’re being considered, accounted, and that they matter. “Male and female restrooms leaves discomfort for transgender or gender-fluid people,” he said, “there is more fluidity than we assume. We overestimate how much our cultural beliefs reflect the natural world.”
MCTC is trying to practice universal design. This is a concept that promotes accessibility and inclusiveness to all people. In the past, this has included different changes throughout campus to allow for a fair learning environment for students from different cultures and abilities. The Accessibility Resource Center page states “We value diverse perspectives and experiences; and work to foster an appreciation and respect to ensure all students, faculty, and staff feel welcome.” Some of the steps taken have been building ramps for wheelchairs and the addition of a testing center for students with English as a second language or learning disabilities.
“It’s just good practice… the more we can accommodate for one group, the better it is for lots of people, and arguably everybody,” said Tara Martinez, director of student life at MCTC. “It’s a nice place for people who may be in transition with housing… who doesn’t like having their own space and the privacy that comes with having their own stall?”
This change faced minimal, if any, opposition. The biggest difficulties have stemmed from logistics and cost-efficiency. While there hasn’t been a huge buzz around campus about this change, people have noticed. Misty Rowan, a 2nd-year transfer student is happy about the change, though mentioned a slight discomfort with using what was obviously a former men’s room.
With this in mind, she said “If anyone feels a little bit of discomfort [using a restroom that was once for a different gender identity than their own], they might understand what it feels like to be uncomfortable all the time with the constant reminders of your ‘not fitting into society’. I think that would maybe help people be a little bit more compassionate towards people who just want to be accepted, who just want [their gender identity] to be seen as an average everyday thing and not worthy of comment.”
The requests for these bathrooms were not overpowering over the past years, though “for every person who’s asking there are probably many more who are wondering and don’t know where to ask,” said Martinez.
On the MCTC homepage, there is an orange “Ask us” button which, with about two clicks, offers a list of the all-gender bathrooms on campus. Each building has at least one set of all-gender bathrooms, and the policy on campus is that a person may use whichever bathroom fits their gender-identity, whether or not it was the one they were assigned at birth. This is great news for advocates of the gender-nonconforming on campus, because the laws in Minnesota are still a bit muddled and convoluted in these regards.
These changes have come about nationally in the past few years, and exploded during spring of this year when North Carolina tried to pass a bill that would only allow people to use restrooms that matched the gender they were assigned at birth. About a month later, Target issued a statement taking an inclusive stance on the issue, saying that transgender (transgender is defined as “denoting or relating to a person whose self-identity does not conform unambiguously to conventional notions of male or female gender”) customers and employees may use whichever bathroom correlates with their gender identity. MCTC has chosen the language of “all-gender” to be intentionally inclusive towards those who don’t identify with either of these two genders.
On the national scale, opponents of these types of decisions suggest that it gives an open landscape for predatory behavior. Statistically, this is simply not true. In fact, in 2015, Media Matters contacted seventeen school districts covering 600,000 students that had allowed transgenderpeoples to use the bathrooms they were comfortable with and found that none of these schools reported a problem.
Aster Foley, the president of the Pride club and a trans student, put the issue a bit more simply. “This is a really good thing, not just for trans- people. It promotes community we haven’t really had among genders, but it’s not even as big as that. I just want to pee.”