By Bronte Dod
Multiple bathrooms in Doney Hall will be transformed into sex-neutral facilities this summer, University officials said.
The renovations will occur as the result of the collaboration between multiple administrative departments and the Queer Student Union (QSU), who began to petition the University last spring.
Junior politics major Andrés Oswill is the president of the QSU; he was introduced to the sex-neutral restroom initiative as a freshman when he joined the organization. Since then, he has taken on the project personally.
“These are students who feel comfortable nowhere, and have genuine concerns for their safety, because of how they identify in terms of sex and gender,” Oswill said. “As a University that tries to be inclusive, we should be worrying about giving them one single space where they can feel safe and comfortable.”
Both the online petition and the Facebook page for sex-neutral restrooms at Willamette have gained over 300 signatures and “likes.” Oswill said the members of the faculty and administration with whom the QSU worked with have been supportive as well.
Oswill and the QSU wrote the initial proposal for sex-neutral bathrooms last spring.
Not knowing where to begin, they submitted the proposal to multiple departments, administrators, faculty and staff members within the University.
Assistant Professor of English Allison Hobgood was the faculty advisor for the QSU last semester and sits on the faculty council for multicultural affairs. She worked with the QSU to bring all the relevant University departments together into one conversation.
“To make this happen there are a lot of siloed sections of the University that need to get together and collaborate,” Hobgood said.
Hobgood said that the issue goes beyond gaining privacy in bathrooms.
According to Hobgood, the faculty needs to demonstrate that they are allied with students as well; one way to do this would be to make at least one restroom in every academic building sex-neutral, Hobgood said.
“This is a campus climate, safety and rights issue,” she said.
Sophomore Nate Balk is the community mentor on the third floor of Lausanne, where the sex-identifying signs on restroom doors have repeatedly been ripped down this semester.
The incidents sparked conversations among the residents regarding whether they want their restrooms to be sex-neutral.
On Thursday, Balk organized a conversation with residents to find the safest and most comfortable solution for the community.
Balk said half of the residents supported making the bathrooms sex-neutral, while the other half were against the proposal. For now, the bathrooms on the third floor of Lausanne will remain segregated.
Oswill said that the University policy – which allows students to self-regulate bathroom accommodations – isn’t the best solution.
Currently, if even one person objects to having a sex-neutral bathroom, then those residents who don’t feel comfortable in a gendered setting – or support unisex bathrooms for any other reason – lose the option of having access to a sex-neutral bathroom.
The QSU proposal states that the current restroom arrangements can remain in residence halls and in on-campus buildings in order to accommodate people who feel uncomfortable with sex-neutral restrooms.
“The specifics are less important than [not] putting the burden on people who don’t feel comfortable in traditional bathrooms,” Oswill said.
Dean of Campus Life David Douglass said that many concerns could be eliminated by renovating the bathrooms according to universal design principles. The design will not only increase personal privacy, but also balance some inequities that follow gender segregated bathrooms in the first place.
Douglass said he is concerned that this initiative will help one group only to damage another. He said that the University would facilitate a dialogue so that all student needs and concerns are met in the process of renovating.
Both Hobgood and Douglass noted that Willamette was among the first universities to offer gender-neutral housing options to students. Hobgood said that Willamette used to be on the forefront of sex-neutral related issues, but is now falling behind its peer institutions.
Lewis & Clark and Reed College have sex-neutral restroom options on campus. Oswill and other members of the QSU toured these facilities and spoke to students at those colleges about it.
Oswill said that students at those schools reportedly felt comfortable with sex-neutral restrooms and were surprised that Willamette did not already have sex-neutral bathrooms implemented.
“A bathroom is not a space [for] being male or female. It’s a space about performing bodily functions,” Oswill said.
Oswill and members of the QSU have spoken with multiple departments and groups across the University, including Campus Life, Bishop Wellness Center, facilities and the student group Sexual Assault Response Allies. Oswill said that each group has brought up concerns that the proposal has addressed.
“We are very aware of those concerns. We aren’t seeking to make more students unsafe. We feel like we can make students who usually feel unsafe, feel safe and not take away that space from other people,” Oswill said. “We feel like we can do both and that’s our goal.”