NIU implemented its first sets of multi-stall, gender-inclusive bathrooms Wednesday. The Northern Star Editorial Board commends the efforts put forth by the Gender and Sexuality Resource Center for securing these bathrooms for students, but NIU should have recognized this movement a few flushes ago.
The new additions of four restrooms are at both ends of the first floor of Altgeld Hall, located in the east and west wings. Each bathroom is available to use by any person. The signs read “anyone can use this restroom regardless of gender identity or expression” and can be seen with a person with a dress; a person in pants; a person split in half with a dress then with pants; and a person in a wheelchair. The two former men’s restrooms have bagged urinal systems and are out-of-commission temporarily but will be taken out in the long-term, said John Heckman, vice president of facilities management and campus services.
“[The new bathroom addition] allows people to do the most basic of functions in a way that they feel included and safe to be able to choose spaces that represent them,” said Molly Holmes, director of Gender and Sexuality Resource Center. “It also gives the campus more options in terms of everybody being able to choose the restroom that they feel comfortable and safe using.”
This past summer, the university developed single-stall, gender-inclusive bathrooms in the Holmes Student Center to serve as prototypes to see how the NIU community would respond to the change of all-gender bathrooms, according to a July 18 Northern Star article. This project has taken months of planning, Heckman said. While the university is on its own path to better understand how students will adapt, other schools have already surpassed NIU in great lengths to support students in the bathroom.
Illinois State University changed a sign in its student center’s single-stall family restroom to read “all gender” in 2014, according to a Feb. 9, 2016, Vidette article. In fall of 2015, the University of Illinois in Champaign-Urbana moved to provide its residence halls with gender-inclusive restrooms. On Feb. 4 2016, UofI changed single-stall bathroom signs from male and female to read “all gender,’ according to a Feb. 8 Daily Illini article.
These small changes affect two specific things: students and how comfortable they feel on-campus and whether prospective students might want to attend that school.
For students looking to apply to college, their first option might have been ISU or UofI, schools that beat NIU in enrollment numbers after the 5.5 decline it saw this past semester. But now, this campus offers greater options for students of the LGBTQ community, thanks to the Gender and Sexuality Resource Center, with these new multi-stall, gender-inclusive bathrooms.
“This is just one way we are able to showcase [our diversity,]” Holmes said. “It might be the newest way, but it really aligns with what we’re about already. Specifically for transgender, non-conforming students, faculty and staff, this affirms [their] place and that inclusion.”
Matthew Lonski, Gender and Sexuality Resource Center graduate assistant, said he leads a student task-force of more than ten students, called Trans-action, that is working on mapping out bathrooms on-campus to better understand what signs could be changed to all-gender in the future.
The Northern Star Editorial Board applauds the steps that the members of the Gender and Sexuality Resource Center are taking to transition this campus into a progressive era by making gender-neutral bathrooms a normality for students. We hope to see more signs changed.