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UMM adds “family restrooms” to all campus buildings

MORRIS -- Since November 2012, the University of Minnesota, Morris has slowly been converting some bathrooms on campus to gender-neutral restrooms as a result of a proposal from the campus'  Queer Issues Committee.

However, it is not the rise of these single-stall bathrooms that has students talking, but the implementation of a multi-stall gender neutral bathroom, located in the Humanities Building.

The proposal, submitted in the fall of 2011 by UMM Queer Issues Committee, asked that “every building on the University of Minnesota, Morris campus contain at least one gender-neutral single-stall bathroom.”

At the time that the proposal was written, there were five academic buildings on campus that did not have gender-neutral bathroom facilities.

“People most affected by single sex bathrooms are transgender people who don’t identify with male, female, or are in the transitional phase,” said George/Anne Meyers-Welsch, Queer Issues Committee member. “If you are in the process of transitioning, you don’t know which [gender designated] bathroom is the safer choice [to use].”

The proposal highlights that gender-neutral bathrooms – or family restrooms – are also beneficial to individuals with disabilities who may need assistance from an opposite gendered caregiver and adults with young children who may require assistance.

“Gender neutral bathrooms address a safety issue,” said Sandy Olson-Loy, UMM vice-chancellor of student affairs. “People may get uncomfortable when those who don’t look the specific gender [use the bathroom]. Also, if someone is ill or would like more privacy, gender neutral [single-stall] bathrooms give them that option.”

The proposal was endorsed by UMM’s Planning Committee in January of 2012. The committee is made up of 13 members – a combination of students, staff and faculty – with ten voting members and three members who provide background information. The Planning Committee reviews and recommends policies that have long term implications for campus. The proposal was then submitted to Chancellor Jacquie Johnson, who gave the final approval.

“In response to student requests and in the interest of serving the diverse group of campus and community members who are present on the UMM campus, we are implementing a plan to designate one restroom [per] building as a unisex or family bathroom. In some cases, that has involved putting a lock on the exterior door of the restrooms that have multiple stalls to insure individual or family privacy,” Johnson said in a statement.

The transition across campus has been different for each building. For many buildings, a simple signage change was all that was needed to convert gender-specific single-stall bathrooms to gender-neutral spaces.

In the Humanities of Fine Arts building, for example, the two single-stall gender specific bathrooms located on the main floor were changed to unisex bathrooms, with traditional bathrooms available in the lower level.

The policy also does not change the bathrooms in the Student Center, which was built in 1992. At that time, the only bathroom on the main floor of the building was built as a single-stall unisex bathroom because it was the only bathroom on the main floor and was handicap accessible.

Currently two buildings remain without unisex bathrooms: Education and Rodney A. Briggs Library. If these buildings undergo future renovations, the proposal asks that the construction plans include at least one gender-neutral bathroom facility in each building.

“By changing the gender specific bathrooms to gender-neutral bathrooms, there are also more bathrooms available for everyone to use,” said Meyers-Welsch. “Before, if someone was waiting for the occupied women’s [single-stall] bathroom, they would have to wait even if the single-stall men’s bathroom was not being used. Now anyone can use either of the bathrooms.”

Converting bathrooms in older buildings like the Humanities Building has presented a challenge. Due to the current bathroom facilities in the Humanities building, UMM implemented multi-stall gender-neutral bathrooms in the basement and on the top floor. A lock was also placed on the exterior doors of the multi-stall bathrooms to give people the option of locking the door if so desired. Traditional gender-specific bathrooms are available on the second floor of the building.

After interviewing several UMM students, it seems that students understand the reasoning behind the implementation of single-stall gender-neutral bathrooms on campus and see them as providing an alternative bathroom option.

However, when asked about the implementation of the multi-stall gender-neutral space, students had a mixed reaction. Several students had not been aware of the implementation of the multi-stall gender-neutral bathroom but found the idea troubling.

“If a guy is going to the bathroom, it should be only guys in the bathroom,” said Matt Bennis, UMM junior. “Before using that bathroom, I would definitely have to evaluate the situation. I don’t want to be self-conscious in the bathroom.”

After asking Bennis and his friends Joe Roggenbuck and Will Benson if the lock on the exterior door made a difference to them, Roggenbuck said that “it seems like a waste to have a multi-stall bathroom with a lock on it.”

UMM student Ashley Satre, who has seen multi-stall gender-neutral bathrooms other places, wasn’t bothered by the idea of using the multi-stall bathroom.

“It’s just a bathroom,” said Satre. “It wouldn’t be any different than if you used a bathroom at someone’s house where everyone uses the same bathroom. I’ve seen bathrooms like this other places and I don’t see what the big deal is.”