Why Are There No Gender-Neutral Bathrooms On Campus?

Jordan Hearring is a junior vocal music education major from Minott, North Dakota. They use they/them and he/him pronouns.

Editor’s note: The Herald would like to make a clarification: When we refer to “easily accessible gender-neutral bathrooms” on campus, we are not referring to currently existing family or disabled bathrooms. While these can function as gender-neutral bathrooms, many gender nonconforming students would prefer not to use them to avoid taking away needed facilities for families and those with disabilities who cannot use regular bathrooms. The Herald has also been notified that the absence of gender-neutral bathrooms is an Arkansas plumbing code issue, rather than one specific to A-State. We apologize for any confusion.

In my three years attending Arkansas State University, I have faced a very unsettling and rather unusual challenge. This challenge, for many, isn’t something they really think about when they’re out in public. They may not even think about it at all. This challenge, however, is one that potentially affects many in the student body like myself, and can cause waves of melancholy and a form of anguish that none can truly understand except for, well, folks like me. The unfortunate reality is that it feels like there may be no immediate solution to this problem, and it will require a discouraging amount of effort to solve it. What is the challenge, you may ask?

There are no easily accessible gender-neutral bathrooms on campus. 

As a gender nonconforming individual, I find that anytime I’m away from my apartment and in between classes I am faced with the constant reminder that society, although evolving, still remains mostly and exclusively binary. Many of the buildings on campus are older and any form of addition or renovation would result in the entire building needing to be redone. However, the Humanities building was recently built and yet there are no gender neutral bathrooms. The Fine Arts Center (where many of my classes are as a music major), the Dean B. Ellis Library and even the Reng Student Union have no gender neutral bathrooms on any of their floors. 

In the United States, it’s estimated that more than 1 million adults identify as nonbinary or gender nonconforming, and that’s just those who have come out and disclosed their gender identity, and 2 million more identified as transgender or non-binary in the 2020 census. What portion of that percentage may be within our own student body, whether they’re out or not? 

I’ve asked around for some opinions on this unfortunate circumstance within the small but vocal gender nonconforming community at A-State. Rike Robinson, a sophomore music composition major from Jonesboro, says, “Ultimately, for me, the problem stretches further than the lack of gender neutral bathrooms. The fact that they are so inaccessible and that the average person doesn’t know if/where one is on campus is enough to make me wonder if the campus administration is committed to providing a safe and inviting environment for all of its students, and you also have to consider the message the administration is sending when they haven’t installed any in the new buildings that have popped up recently. The reasons they have for not including gender neutral bathrooms are rooted in dated beliefs and that alone is a glaring issue.” 

Lily Sadler, a senior history education major from Lake Village, says, “It’s annoying. All the bathrooms are either boy or girl and if there is a gender neutral bathroom, it also serves as a disabled bathroom, which is fine, but it makes me less inclined to use it in case a disabled person needs it. I automatically go to the women’s restroom, not only because so many people perceive me as such, but also because I feel like I would be judged for using the men’s room. It’s frustrating to only have the binary options even though Arkansas State is supposed to be diverse.” 

The issues that Robinson and Sadler have brought up are issues I share with them as well. The inconvenience of being surrounded by a community that claims to be supportive and accepting while still not having basic amenities such as an affirming bathroom, and the lack of awareness within the administration of the students they represent, affect me as well. There is, however, another concern that the gender nonconforming community face, even if there are gender-neutral bathrooms installed: will our safety and our rights be protected if the administration has already failed to recognize this portion of their student body?

The solution to this harrowing issue would ideally be to find somewhere in every building on campus to install these restrooms. They would be single-stall family-style restrooms that would accommodate the gender nonconforming population on campus and wouldn’t draw attention if one were to use them. The point isn’t necessarily to appeal only to nonconforming or transgender individuals, but to have amenities more accessible to these individuals so they don’t feel like they’re only limited to the binary options, the options that the administration are clearly unaware of changing and expanding to more reaffirming options.

Categories: Opinion

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