ANYONE: SDSU proposal of gender-neutral bathrooms

Multi-stall, gender-neutral bathrooms are a possibility on the South Dakota State campus.

A proposal was submitted to University housing and Residential Life this spring from the Honors Hall, suggesting two large women’s bathrooms be changed to gender-neutral. This would address a lack of male-designated bathrooms on the second and third floors of the residence hall.

University Housing and Residential Life staff members may start surveying the Honors Hall community and campus about the proposal as soon as October.

“I’m looking at the practicality of it — if there’s a practical need,” said Brian Dominguez, area coordinator for University Housing and Residential Life. The proposal will only move forward if people continually establish a need for the change at each stage of the process.

University officials aren’t making a political statement in this decision, Dominguez said. He’s yet to hear any social need for gender-neutral bathrooms in the hall.

Chris Hartzler, a hospitality management major and transgender male, said there’s no real way to gauge the social need of a gender-neutral bathroom.

“Doing this now, even if they don’t see a need immediately gives an opportunity for these people in the future,” Hartzler said. “Maybe right now they don’t have anybody utilize it this year if they change it this year, but next year someone might move into Honors Hall because that’s there. It could generate the need.”

A social need would arise from people who do not want to be subjected to binary bathrooms or who identify as transgender.

The main reason gender-neutral bathrooms were proposed in the spring was because there were too few bathroom stalls for men on each floor.

Isaiah Croatt, who lived in the hall last year, was part of the first discussions about the idea. It started out as a joke, he said, but as residents talked about it there was more interest generated around the idea.

“It’s something that I’m excited to see,” Croatt said. “It’s a new kind of change that is proactive and beneficial to everyone.”

Lilly Bruce, a sophomore sociology major, was also part of the discussion last year. She’s living in the residence hall again and said the need and issue is still relevant to this year’s residence hall.

She’s seen male residents who have to search for bathrooms on different floors because all of them were in use when the student needed to use the bathroom. She heard a lot of complaints last year as well.

“It just makes sense,” Bruce said.

Honors Hall residential bathrooms are set up so that inside each bathroom area there are private stalls containing a toilet and shower inside with a full-frame door. This is different from other common public bathrooms around campus with multiple stalls in an open area. There are also deadbolt locks on the inside of each door.

There are three male-designated private stalls and seven female-designated private stalls on the second and third floors. These are two separate female-designated bathroom areas. The one on the far women’s side of the residence hall has three private stalls, similar to the men’s bathroom. There is one large women’s bathroom in the center of each floor with four private stalls.

Typically, there are more women on a floor, but there’s not enough bathrooms to accommodate male residents, Bruce said.

The stall-to-male-resident ratio on second floor is 1-to-4. The male ratio on third floor is 1-to-5.7.

The stall-to-female ratios on both second and third floor are averaged to 1-to-3.64.

Joe Carrels, a freshman pre-pharmacy major, can recall at least four times so far this year where he’s had to find a bathroom on another floor because the restrooms on his floor were occupied.

This is generally more common in the morning when residents are getting ready because each stall has a toilet and shower inside, so only three residents can use the bathroom for either purpose at the same time.

The biggest reason he supports the gender-neutral bathrooms is because of the unbalanced ratio. A gender-neutral option would make it more convenient to find a stall on the floor and give a fair split between men’s and women’s bathrooms.

A number of male residents are supportive of the change, Carrels said. The topic comes up on a fairly regular basis in the hall.

In contrast to calls of support for the change, there have been points of opposition. This includes risk of sexual assault or harassment.

Dominguez said University Housing and Residential Life and other departments of the university would take necessary actions to ensure the safety of students and residents from such instances.

Although there’s always a risk like this, Bruce said there’s not much that could go wrong with the change because the stalls are more private than any other bathrooms on campus, and because residents are still clothed in the public space.

“All you’re really sharing is sinks,” Bruce said.

The biggest concern Croatt heard in discussions last academic year were those of cleanliness.

“It was kind of less about seeing another guy in the bathroom if you were a girl, and more about how the bathroom might become a little dirtier,” Croatt said. “I think for the most part that’s kind of a concern that can be alleviated.”

Anika Driesen, freshman dietetics major and Honors resident, said she’s neutral on the issue, but can understand both sides.

“Everyone, I feel, would have to be on board to do it,” Driesen said. “If there was a girl who felt it was violating, then I don’t want to make her feel like that.”

If university officials find a need for the gender-neutral bathrooms in Honors Hall and implement the change, Driesen thinks she’ll use the gender-neutral option.

Vanessa Konynenbelt, freshman electrical engineering major, said she probably won’t use the gender-neutral bathroom if implemented. She would likely opt for the three-stall women’s bathroom because it’s something she’s more comfortable with.

This would be a similar response for other female residents in the hall, Konynenbelt said. This would only translate to higher traffic in the three-stall bathroom instead of residents using the gender-neutral bathroom.

“While it looks like a solution, I don’t think it would really work well,” Konynenbelt said.

Although Konynenbelt isn’t opposed to the gender-neutral bathroom solution, she thinks just creating a balanced number of bathrooms for men and women would be the most ideal solution. She also thinks thr situation now is fine because there are more women in the residential hall.

Changes should be based on where the needs are in the residence hall, Dominguez said.

“I would be very excited if we had something like this on campus, you know, because when we’re talking about a student need and this is student-driven, I think we want to advocate for them in this way,” Dominguez said.

But before any changes happent to the bathrooms, Dominguez wants to establish if the need from last year still exists.

“We want to take this matter seriously because we want to serve the needs of the student population,” Dominguez said.

When the process begins, Dominguez plans to address hall residents and hall leadership. The next step is then to address other campus leaders, such as members of the Residence Hall Association and other committees.

This change will not only affect Honors Hall, Dominguez said, but “we also have to look at how it affects the larger campus community.”

According to Hartzler, the group that will be impacted the most with this change are the people not being represented in the discussion.

“If it gets knocked down, it’s going to get a little ding out of the people who are noticing,” Hartzler said. “People like me who are paying attention — people in the same circle that I am as non-binary, non-cis people — are going to be hearing about this. They’re going to keep their eye on it, and if the college shoots it down, it’s going to be a bit of a moral blow for them.”

Even trying to gauge the social need for this change presents a problem because “you can’t really gauge need without breaking down walls that some people have to protect themselves,” Hartzler said.

Liz Gallagher, Gender and Sexualities Alliance (GSA) treasurer and senior sociology major, said some people can’t speak out because of fear.

“It’s one more thing that restricts their ability to exist on campus,” Gallagher said.

Choosing a bathroom between male and female provides a sense of terror for those people, Hartzler said.

When Hartzler came out two years ago, he was uncomfortable having to choose between men’s and women’s bathrooms. Instead, he would use one-person, gender-neutral or family bathrooms.

“During my last semester living on campus, my life revolved around the family bathroom near Volstorff Ballroom,” Hartzler said.

This was the only gender-neutral bathroom he knew about on campus that he could easily access at the time.

Hartzler had to adjust to the cleaning schedule of the bathroom and keep himself within a two-minute walk from The Union to access it when he needed.

He’s been wanting to expand access to gender-neutral bathrooms across campus since his transition.

“Gender-neutral bathrooms are just immensely practical,” Hartzler said.

Gallagher agreed adding, “gender-neutral bathrooms don’t just affect the LGBT community — they help everyone.”

If students in the Honors Hall voice a need for a gender-neutral bathroom in the residence hall, as well as other opionions from campus while the proposal is addressed further, Dominguez said he wants to “make it happen as best as we can.”

“SDSU is a leader in many things, and if we do have the decision to move forward, we’re happy to have that relationship,” Dominguez said.