Everybody’s got to do their business — whether you’re male, female or something else (and yes, there are other options). Illinois State University recently made the decision to alter their family bathrooms to become gender-neutral bathrooms.
The move is hailed by some as a step in a progressive direction that would allow those who don’t identify as male or female a comfortable place to use the bathroom. Others criticize the decision as a politically correct cry for publicity by the university.
Both of these viewpoints may have some truth to them.
Providing a safe environment for those who don’t want to use the men’s or women’s restrooms is a great idea. But to be clear, nothing about the function of the bathroom changes with the name swap. Anybody can use a family bathroom; anybody can use a gender-neutral bathroom. The only thing that physically changes is the sign, something that Fox News was quick to point out when they asked people on the street if the sign was confusing — the general consensus was that it was not.
But the political statement that Illinois State University is making by rebranding “family” to “gender-neutral” goes beyond the physical aspects of the space. By making the change, the students at Illinois State that don’t define themselves as strictly male or female will have a place to comfortably do their business. The bathroom is no longer just a place for “families.”
Gender is different from sex. Sex is the human parts you’re born with, the physical aspect of your sexuality, whereas gender is your personal feelings and preferences. It is not a black-and-white situation — or rather pink-and-blue, in the case of restrooms.
Here at MSU, many buildings don’t have family restrooms, let alone gender-neutral ones. In many places there are only men’s and women’s, which could make some students uncomfortable if they don’t identify as either. In residence halls that don’t offer community bathrooms, the main floors only have two bathrooms, and this is the case for many non-residential campus buildings.
MSU needs to address this issue. There has undoubtedly been a Spartan who has been made uncomfortable due to the lack of a proper place to relieve themselves. As a university who prides itself on diversity, that offers gender-neutral housing options, LGBT clubs and awareness programs, the least it could do is put in bathrooms — family or all-gender — so that every Spartan can say they feel at home here.
The bathrooms themselves don’t necessarily need to be called “all-gender” or “gender-neutral” in order to provide students who fall in the middle of the gender spectrum a place to use the restroom without sidelong glances, stares or confrontations. While MSU could continue their progressive track record and declare any potential new bathrooms all-gender, the same purpose would still be served no matter what the designation on the door is so long as it’s inclusive.
In buildings that only have two restrooms, however, it would cost the university a pretty penny to install a third, so the likelihood of this happening is pretty slim.
MSU has recently done many reconstruction projects across campus, from Akers to Brody. Hindsight is 20/20 of course, but MSU should have included new restrooms in some of those renovations. The university should decide to continue investing in a progressive path, despite the cost, because inclusiveness and accessibility, is a vital tenet of MSU’s land grant.