Monomuth University’s academic buildings will have gender-free bathrooms, meaning that they can be used by all students, be they male, female, or transgender in just a few weeks.
Previously, there had been very few gender-free or unisex bathrooms available on campus. Once this plan is completed, there will be one such bathroom in each academic building. The only construction that needs to take place is the changing of the current signage, which will be complete in a few weeks at a low cost to the University.
“Monmouth University is committed to providing a safe and secure environment for all students, staff, and visitors, regardless of race, religion, gender, ethnicity, disability, or sexual orientation,” said Associate Vice President Tara Peters. “We work to foster and support an environment on campus that is inclusive, respectful, and free from discrimination and harassment. Providing gender-inclusive restrooms allows all members of our campus community, as well as visitors, to use restrooms that best fit their identity and demonstrates that gender diversity is welcome here.”
The idea to create gender-free bathrooms was started by Kelly Ward, a social work professor at the University and the head of the MSW program. In a previous semester, she had a student who was transitioning and did not feel comfortable using a gender-specific bathroom; as a result, the third-floor men’s room in McAllen Hall was used as a gender-free bathroom. From that, she became aware of the lack of unisex or gender-free bathrooms on campus, and began reaching out to the administrators of the University to try to change that.
“We need some safe spaces for those who identify as transgendered to use a bathroom,” said Ward, in an e-mail. “It would be more welcoming to those who are going through the transition process or who have transitioned completely.”
Monmouth University is not the first school to implement gender-free (also called gender-neutral) bathrooms on campus. According to information published by The Stonewall Center, University of Massachusetts Amherst’s LGBTQ organization, more than 150 schools across the country feature these gender-neutral bathrooms.
However, this is not the first time that people have attempted to improve issues surrounding the LGBTQ community on Monmouth’s campus, according to Melissa Rance, the president of S.P.E.C.T.R.U.M., Monmouth University’s LGBTQ campus organization. They have had previous discussions about the living situations for transgender students with Residential Life, but see this as a positive first step. “I think that this is a great effort that Monmouth University is making to not only help the transgender and gender non-conformity groups, but also to show how accepting Monmouth’s campus is becoming, and our intolerance for discrimination of any sort,” said Rance.
“I am hopeful that there will be little to not issues surrounding this new change that Monmouth is bringing to the new academic buildings. Being an active member of the only LGBTQ organization on campus for three years, and even now, being president of the club, I have seen the gradual progress our campus has made with human rights issues as well as LGBTQ awareness and acceptance. Each year, our club gets an influx of new members who fall on every part of the Spectrum, all whom have the common goal of spreading awareness and making our campus an accepting, safe place for the LGBTQ community and with this new change that Monmouth is making it feels like our efforts are paying off and that the University is on our side to improve efforts for equality and acceptance,” Rance added.
The construction of these bathrooms will only take a few weeks, as the only change required is to alter the signage identifying each bathroom. The project will only cost $1,200 excluding labor costs, according to Peters, making it a relatively inexpensive project for the University to take on.
“No construction is needed to establish gender-inclusive restrooms,” said Peters. “The only physical change being made is the installation of signage to select restrooms. The change will be communicated campus-wide and a listing of the inclusive restrooms will be shared with the University community.
The campus response to the idea of gender-free bathrooms is largely positive, with many students commenting that they do not mind the change.
“It’s a good idea,” said a senior biology student who wished to remain anonymous. “It allows students to choose which bathrooms they want to use, and for trans students who aren’t necessarily out yet, they don’t have to make a choice that might make them uncomfortable.”