Section: News

Increase in neutral bathrooms

by Erich Kaletka

We are all familiar with the gendered stick figures that demarcate most bathrooms on Kenyon’s campus. Campus Senate is in the process of implementing a resolution, passed in Senate last October, which mandates that all single-stall bathrooms on campus be converted to gender-neutral. Kenyon currently has some gender-neutral bathrooms, such as those in the  basement of Olin-Chalmers Library and in Lentz House. These changes have widespread support across campus, from student groups, such as Unity House, and professors to administrative offices, such as the Office of Diversity Equity and Inclusion (ODEI). Associate Professor of English and Faculty Co-Chair of Campus Senate Sarah Heidt stated that  “President Decatur was visibly and verbally pleased by the resolution.”

President Sean Decatur says that plans are in motion to continue the process of installing gender-neutral bathrooms. “[Chief Business Officer] Mark Kohlman has been working with maintenance and the facilities folks [to make]  an inventory of bathrooms across campus,” Decatur said.

The resolution, which Campus Senate passed on Oct. 28, 2014, has two main caveats: first, that all single-stall bathrooms on campus be converted to gender-neutral spaces (even if this requires gaining exemption or variance from the Ohio Building Code), and second, “that all appropriate measures be taken to provide secure gender-neutral toilets and shower facilities in residence halls as soon as is feasible. Heidt said that “one of the apparent misunderstandings that has been flying around campus [regarding the resolution] is that it is about making all bathrooms gender-neutral, but that is not the case and is not the resolution that was passed.” Such changes have already been made in Lentz House, and while it would be ideal to immediately make all single stalls on campus gender neutral, “we found that the legal situation makes things more difficult because of building codes and such, and because of some changes we are already almost certainly out of code in some places,” Heidt said.

Decatur elaborated on the issues of codes. “seven or eight years ago, the state made it easier to change the codes for gender-neutral bathrooms,” Decatur said. “It turns out that about 3 or 4 years ago, they changed them back.”

Student Co-Chair of Campus Senate Conrad Jacober ’15 said that “the resolution came about in response to complaints from students who identify outside of the gender binary.” 

The measures implemented thus far have garnered support both with students and faculty. Arreon Watson ’18 attends meetings at Unity House, a center that aims to support LGBTQ Kenyon students and their allies, and says that he “embraces the use of gender-neutral bathrooms because everyone deserves comfort and security.” He added a caveat. “While I do agree with gender-neutral stalls, I would be careful in making all bathrooms gender-neutral because that is not an issue Campus Senate can decide,” Watson said. “It’s an issue that involves everyone.”

ODEI  and Inclusion, which was founded this fall, also approves of this move. “One of the missions of our office is to expand what is diversity, what is equity and what is inclusion,” Associate Provost of ODEI and Associate Professor of English Ivonne García said, “and as such, we support these changes.” García clarified that the ODEI will not pressure the student body to adopt any changes. “We will rarely recommend or try to implement changes on campus,” she said. “Our purpose is that of a think tank and a supporting resource and, while we will try to educate students and faculty on issues of diversity, we are not a compliance office.”

As far as providing gender-neutral shower spaces in residence halls, there has been little progress as of yet, but the Office of Residential Life and the College’s Operating Division say they are investigating the costs involved and necessary measures to make such changes.

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