By Claire Crow
No one should feel fearful when it comes time to use the restroom. Unfortunately, anxiousness has been the reality for many LGBTQ+ identifiers on Sewanee’s campus for years. Until last week, no bathrooms on the Mountain have ever been officially recognized as gender-neutral. After the joint effort of Spectrum, University administrators, Facilities Management, and the Marketing Department, Sewanee’s online campus map now includes gender-neutral bathrooms on its key, and soon, all single-use bathrooms will be re-labeled as gender-neutral.
Before progressing into the mechanics of Spectrum’s project, I will address some potential areas of confusion so that this initiative is understood in the clearest possible way. Some might be asking, when did Sewanee add new bathrooms? Or, aren’t single-use bathrooms already gender-neutral?
The answer is no, Sewanee did not build new bathrooms overnight. And yes, single-use bathrooms are technically gender-neutral; but before this project, Sewanee has regrettably never acknowledged these bathrooms as all-gender facilities. While this newfound recognition is long overdue, it is a gesture which will signal to trans* individuals that they have access to more physical resources, and hopefully that the Sewanee community is working toward a safer and more inclusive environment for everyone.
Even though these changes may seem like easy fixes, they have been in the works for almost an entire year. Hannah Habit (C’19), former member of Spectrum and a driving force behind this project, recalls how receptive the administration was to the club’s goals, stating, “I was lucky enough to be involved with a number of new projects among this one while at Sewanee. It was very clear that these types of issues are at the forefront of their minds.”
However, Habit also touched on some of the University’s downfalls when it comes to inclusivity initiatives. “One of Sewanee’s greatest strengths is its willingness to have and facilitate those hard conversations; openly addressing the most pressing issues facing the campus and student body. However, oftentimes our work towards a more progressive and inclusive campus stops there,” remarked Habit.
This time, though, Spectrum was able to make Sewanee’s words and actions align, a powerful and promising move for the future of Sewanee.
Speaking to the trans* community on campus, Habit wants to convey that “No matter how large or small the community is, no matter if you are out or not, that we are here for you and are working just as hard for you as we are for the rest of the LGBTQ+ community.”
Dr. Betsy Sandlin, interim associate dean of the college and professor of Spanish, hopes everyone on campus sees the practical importance and overall necessity for labeling restrooms as gender-neutral, as she said, “This should not just be thought of as a symbolic gesture, but it’s a daily life issue for real people.”
Like Habit, Sandlin feels that more progress toward an inclusive campus needs to be done. “This is one tiny step forward, but as a community we need to do a lot more in terms of education and raising awareness about difficult and pertinent subjects.”
In the near future, facilities management will begin re-labeling all of the signs for single-use bathrooms as gender-neutral. For the meantime, you can now locate all gender-neutral bathrooms on the campus map.