Not for the first time, restrooms are making headlines. North Carolina’s HB2 bill, better known as “the bathroom bill,” was repealed on Thursday amid concerns about the ongoing ban on local nondiscrimination legislation. From now until 2020, even towns and schools can’t extend legal protection for transgender people in restrooms and “single-sex spaces.”
In light of this, some may wonder about IUPUI’s restroom policy, and the situation surrounding the elusive all gender restroom in Cavanaugh Hall’s fifth floor.
Although it’s rare for universities to have explicit stances on gender identity, IU interprets Title IX to cover gender and restroom use. IUPUI uses the same nondiscrimination policy. Transgender students can use gender-affirming restrooms without fear of repercussion from the school; any attempt to deny students access to affirming restrooms would violate this policy.
There are those at IUPUI who are not concerned with school policy, but with individual behavior. Charmayne Champion-Shaw, the director for Native American and Indigenous studies, was distressed by the “attitude of empowerment” without immediate protection. She cited a scenario where a trans student may be harassed in a restroom in an area without faculty support, or even faculty who have received ally training and understand the situation.
“It’s one thing to empower students and tell everybody ‘You can use whatever bathroom’ ... but that protection piece is critical in making this a safe and welcoming place,” she said. She also lamented the lack of intersectional committees making decisions like gender-neutral restrooms.
These restrooms are scattered across campus and are available for everyone to use. The newest resides in Cavanaugh’s fifth floor and is a converted men’s restroom. After several requests to Tom Davis, the dean of liberal arts at IUPUI, the process began late last spring. Because Cavanaugh is a high traffic building with permanent faculty offices, it felt like a disservice to not make the effort.
“I was thinking of scenarios in which I could see it would be incredibly inconvenient to have to tell someone who wanted to take advantage of a gender-inclusive bathroom to say ‘Oh well there’s one if you’re willing to go over to this building or go over to that building,’” he said.
First came meeting with other deans and campus facility services. This particular restroom was selected because it met the single stall requirement and could be repurposed without major construction, which wasn’t feasible due to lack of funds. Orders for the new door lock and sign had to be approved by campus facility services, and it was several months between requests and installation.
The matter of signage has plagued this project since it began. Through the summer 2016 semester, the restroom had a new lock but the same men’s room sign. A paper replica of the all-gender sign was taped over it, only to be ripped down several times.
“By designating that one facility as gender inclusive, it doesn’t take away anything from anybody,” Davis said. “I mean, everyone’s still able to use that facility if they choose, so--personally, I just don’t understand why people would tear the sign down.”
A permanent sign came in the fall 2016 semester. Because the restroom is in a very secluded part of Cavanaugh’s fifth floor, there are hopes of installing other signs on lower floors for directions on how to find the bathrooms. Davis’s office sent emails to Cavanaugh residents in the summer and fall semesters detailing the change and how to find the restroom.
“Tell you the honest truth, even though it was a conversion of an existing bathroom, I worked here for, I worked in this building, for 25 years before I knew that bathroom was even there,” Davis said.
Davis also consulted Tristan Vaught, director of the LGBTQ+ Center, who was “thrilled to see this initiative in Cavanaugh and have been in full support since Dean Davis brought this plan up.”
Cavanaugh’s new bathroom has yet to be added to the list of gender-neutral restrooms on campus, which some students have issue with for being vague or redundant.
“Plus, they don't tell you where exactly the bathrooms are, which is especially important if they're all stuffed in weird corners of buildings. I have no clue where the IT all-gender restroom is, and I'm an informatics major,” Delta Peeler, the LGBTQ Student Alliance representative, said in an email.
Although the new bathroom is remote, Davis emphasized that this change was the only way to “most immediately address the need” of a gender-neutral restroom.
As the national debate on “bathroom bills” rages on, IUPUI continues to take steps forward to make all students as comfortable as possible.