Campus to see surge in gender-neutral bathrooms

Facilities Management plans to start designating new locations for West Bank and St. Paul.

by Olivia Johnson

The number of gender-inclusive bathrooms on campus will more than double throughout the University of Minnesota, up from about 120 to more than 300 in the coming months.
Students and faculty members on the Transgender Commission have called for more gender-neutral bathrooms throughout campus, particularly on the West Bank and St. Paul. The expansion project will begin within the next few weeks and its advocates say it’s intended to provide more safe places for transgender students.
Gender-inclusive bathrooms are bathrooms that are accessible to people of any gender or sex identity. They tend to be single-stall bathrooms with a lock.
Many of the non-gender-inclusive single stall bathrooms have signage indicating whether they are for men or women — excluding some people, said Stef Wilenchek, director of the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender, Ally programs office.
The GLBTA programs office wants the signs to be changed so some bathrooms are accessible to all genders and sex identities, Wilenchek said.
There are more gender-inclusive bathrooms in the East Bank and Health Sciences districts, said Dave Hutton, senior director of district operations for Facilities Management, so his department will prioritize adding restrooms to the West Bank and St. Paul districts, starting with West Bank.
“There can be a lot of harassment or even violence that can occur in bathrooms, not necessarily on our campus, but that may have occurred in the past,” said Wilenchek.
They serve on the Transgender Commission, the group that initially requested an increase in the number of gender-inclusive University spaces, adding that their presence is important for transgender people.
Naomi Scheman, a philosophy and gender, women, and sexuality studies professor said awareness of transgender issues has become more widespread.
“There’s a greater attentiveness to people who are, in a whole range of ways, gender non-conforming,” Scheman said.
Last fall, Minneapolis passed a resolution encouraging businesses to offer gender-neutral bathrooms.
In April, President Eric Kaler allocated $250,000 from the University’s budget to the expansion project.
Hutton said the University is still mapping out the exact placement of the new bathrooms. He said the total number of bathrooms could increase to 400.
Facilities Management is looking to designate some of the school’s existing single-use bathrooms as gender-inclusive, he said.
The University is divided into five districts — West Bank, East Bank, Health Sciences, North Campus and St. Paul. Facilities Management is working with the Transgender Commission to update a map that shows where all the gender-inclusive bathrooms are, Hutton said.
 “I look at it from an operational viewpoint,” Hutton said. “If we make them gender-inclusive, they’ll be more efficient. I think this is going to be good for everyone at the University.”