A range of UNO staff and administrators are currently working with student representatives on a proposal to create more all-gender restrooms on campus. Although there were previously some all-gender facilities, many students felt that there were not enough to support the needs of UNO’s transgender and non-binary students, faculty and staff, or to offer full accessablility. With this new initiative, the hope is to fix this problem by creating accessible, all-gender bathrooms within already-existing spaces. And with this, to make UNO a little bit more inclusive to all its students.
“I think after the incident last semester regarding UNO Social and the following shut down of the [app’s] wall page, the university has shown interest in helping create a safer space for trans students,” says Marceline Guilliot, president of UNO’s Louisiana Trans Advocates (LTA) chapter and member of the effort’s student committee. “At the last meeting on Feb 5, we worked out potential spaces [ for gender-inclusive facilities] in the Rec Center and I’m excited for us to keep working with the administration to create as many trans and nobinary friendly spaces as we can on campus.”
“I met with interested students, including several SGA representatives, to tour some buildings and identify other spaces that could potentially be converted to become gender inclusive or all-gender restrooms,” says Dr. Carolyn Golz, Associate Vice President for Student Affairs and Dean of Students. “We’re working on a proposal based on that campus tour.”
Golz’s office is working with Dr. Desirée Anderson, Associate Dean for Diversity and Student Affairs, and Deborah Hadaway, Associate Vice President for Facilities Services on the administration side of the effort. However, a large part of the initiative is student-run, with representatives from Student Government Association ( SGA) and students like Guilliot from UNO’s chapter of LTA providing their input.
“As a nonbinary trans woman, it’s painfully obvious to me how little of anything there is for people like me on this campus,” says Guilliot. “I think having inclusive bathrooms in every building on campus is an extremely vital step forward towards building as welcoming a campus as possible.”
According to Golz, UNO is not completely without all-gender restrooms, as a previous 2016 effort created eight of these restrooms, three in the Education Building, one in the Earl K. Long Library, and four the International Center. However, it has been noted that this is not nearly enough to support the entirety of the campus, especially when these restrooms’ locations are considered.
“Currently, [transgender and non-binary students, faculty and staff] either have to travel across campus to find a gender inclusive restroom, or they are forced to use a bathroom that might not fit how they identify” says Golz. “The more gender inclusive restrooms we can create on campus, the more we meet the needs of our community members and the more inclusive our campus becomes.”
A UNO student who wishes to remain anonymous would agree with this statement, saying that they have to make a “nine and a half minute walk from the building where most of [their] classes are held, so [they are] unable to use the bathroom between classes that have less than a 25 minute break between them.” This student also notes that, although there is an all-gender restroom in the centrally-located library, this restroom has been closed since the beginning of semester and has, presumably, not yet been replaced. Additionally, they note that none of the current spaces are wheelchair accessible.
The effort to create more gender-inclusive restrooms, however, is about safety as much as convenience. For many students, the inability to use restrooms or changing facilities that match their correct gender has been a serious concern to their safety and health. This leaves them feeling that, although UNO may be taking a positive step with this initiative, there is much more work to be done to create truly safe spaces for all UNO students.
“During my freshman year, I and a non-binary friend of mine were cornered in the locker room of the Rec Center and forced to answer aggressive, invasive questions about our personal identities,” says the same anonymous student. “This experience frightened me and left me feeling that I had no way to use the locker rooms at the Rec Center, as I am not a man or a woman, and apparently cannot expect to be left alone when using the facilities that coincide with the gender I was assigned at birth. I brought this incident up with the administration when it occurred, and we discussed several possible steps the university could take to alleviate the fear and stress transgender, non-binary, and gender non-conforming students experience in gendered facilities, but as of yet I am not aware of any action the university has taken.”
As Golzs notes, the “long term goal [of this initiative] is to create a more inclusive campus environment and community.” Restrooms are an important step towards this, but it is also crucial to begin looking at ways to create gender inclusive locker rooms and other spaces. But, based on their previous experiences, some students remain skeptical.
“I will believe the university cares about transgender students when every building on campus has at least one wheelchair accessible all-gender bathroom,” says the anonymous source. “Until then, I can’t be sure I’m not being told what I want to hear so that I’ll shut up about wanting to use the bathroom in peace.”
For UNO students that would like to help make UNO more accessible for students of all genders, Golz recommends getting involved with organizations involved in this effort, such as SGA or LTA, with LTA meetings being held on Mondays at 5 pm in room 201C of the University Center. Golz also notes that she and her office are open to hearing students’ concerns and ideas. And, as the initiative to create more bathrooms continues, students can take personal action to make UNO feel safer to all students.
“A more immediate way to help would be to support transgender and gender nonconforming students no matter what bathroom they use or what gender you think they are,” says the anonymous source. “If you see someone being harassed, quietly ask them if they’re okay and offer to stay with them until their attacker leaves. Remember that transgender and gender-nonconforming students are not using a bathroom based on a desire to cause other people harm, but rather, based on which bathroom they think is least likely to end in them being abused. If your friends believe myths about transgender people, such as calling trans women predators, remind them that transgender and gender non-conforming people are more likely to be the victims than the perpetrators of harassment in bathrooms. Speak up against bigotry and harassment of transgender students, and speak up in support of transgender people in your social circles. Check out GLAAD’s ‘Tips for Allies of Transgender People,’ available online.”
Photo caption: “Gender Neutral Bathroom Map- Chicago Loop” by Florian Palucci is licensed under CC BY-NC 4.