Potty proposal may flush some gender issues
A student senator from the College of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences, proposed a major sign change for some campus restrooms during the Student Government Association meeting Wednesday.
Student senator Ginna Wallace, senior Spanish and international studies major, submitted the proposal as the first step in trying to make multi-stall unisex restrooms and gender-neutral, single-user restrooms available to everyone on campus. SGA unanimously passed the proposal, which was modified to affect only two restrooms in Stabler Hall.
Gender-neutral, unisex, family friendly or whatever you choose to call it, “The ability to go pee gets taken for granted and we’re just trying to make things easier,” Wallace said.
In the original resolution, Wallace asked for four things: that all single-user bathrooms on campus become family style or gender neutral; that all the restrooms in Stabler Hall become unisex; that newly-constructed buildings have at least one or more single-user restrooms or multi-stalled, unisex restrooms; and finally that there be a single-use or unisex restroom for every so many yards on campus (the actual number of yards is yet to be determined).
The unisex restrooms Wallace proposed for Stabler Hall will not look any different than they do today. The only change will be the gender-neutral sign outside the door. “We’re not asking for remodeling or anything to be torn out, just new signs—it’s cheap and it’s inclusive,” Wallace said.
Restrooms with urinals would be marked with a sign indicating unisex with urinals. So, a woman “has the option; she’s informed before she opens the door,” Wallace said.
Wallace specified three demographics she said would benefit from the proposed changes to the current potty situation: parents who bring their children on campus, students and staff who are transgender and people with disabilities.
The way things are now, with only few family restrooms, a father bringing his daughter on campus is faced with the choice to take her into the men’s restroom with him or send her into the women’s restroom alone. Wallace said with more family restrooms on campus, parents will be easily able to assist their children in the restroom regardless of their gender.
Ashish Bhakta, a staff member, said, “I think UALR would really benefit from some more family bathrooms, for changing areas and things like that, so I think that’s a wonderful idea. In the new dorms and buildings they are proposing to build, it would be nice to see some more family-friendly type restroom areas.” Bhakta graduated from UALR with a masters in rehabilitation counseling.
In most buildings on campus there are restrooms on all floors and wheelchair accessible stalls, but in Stabler Hall, the men’s restrooms are located on odd numbered floors and women’s restrooms are located on even numbered floors, which is why Wallace sees unisex as the way to go in that building. “Even able-bodied people get pissed off about the bathroom situation in Stabler Hall,” Wallace said.
Junior rhetoric major, Anne Bradley said, “I think that’s great. I’ve used unisex bathrooms before. To be able to run in and use the bathroom, if you have to, and not worry that you have to go searching for one that’s appropriate to your sex— I think it would save time.”
In addition to being a senator, Wallace is president of two student organizations including The Alliance, a gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, queer and straight association whose members work to support each other and equal rights.
Wallace said having unisex restrooms would help UALR’s transgender community because of a phenomenon called “tranny bladder.” People who are transgender are faced with a dilemma when using public restrooms. Wallace explained, “Do you go in the bathroom where you look like the other people, but if they find out what’s in your pants they might beat you up or do you go in the bathroom where you have the same thing in your pants as the other people, but you don’t look like them and you might get beaten up. So they’ll hold it for hours till they can finally get to a safe place.”
Bradley said, “I think it would make some of our sexual minorities on campus feel more comfortable… I know that it’s a small thing being a symbol, but it matters sometimes I guess. I think it would show at least that we are trying to progress some, while also being more ergonomic.”
“I’m just trying to do something nice and make the campus a little better for everyone on it,” Wallace said. She added that it is important for everyone to know, “We are not asking for every bathroom on campus to go this way… I think it is important to have gender specific spaces, and it is important to be more welcoming to all sorts of people: trans, parents and people with disabilities.”
Unsure of the outcome, Wallace revealed her anxiety, “I’ve been a little bit nervous about this because I am afraid … it’s going to be met with resistance … But, I’m hoping people are going to instantly see that it’s a positive thing.”
Wallace said she expects “awkwardness may be a problem, but we’ll get over that.”
Bradley offered a suggestion to help curb some of the awkwardness. “I think they should remove the urinals. That’s the thing; I would be uncomfortable walking into a bathroom with men standing up to pee, that I had to see them. But as far as stalled bathrooms being unisex, I’m totally cool with that, as long as there are no urinals,” she said.
Wallace said she expects there to be concerns about cost, cleanliness and safety. But, with only a sign change in the plan, costs will be minimal, Wallace said. That means approximately $50 per sign plus the cost of labor, according to Gloria Negual of facilities management.
However, some students, including junior biology major, Fransisco Medina, may see it as an unneeded expense. “Instead of spending the money on changing a restroom sign they should spend the money on getting more stuff like more microscopes.” He added that renovations would be needed, “You can’t just leave the restroom as it is, obviously a woman is going to walk into a man’s bathroom and she’s going to see everything— she’s going to feel uncomfortable.”
Kimberly Stickley, a non-degree seeking student, said, “I don’t have a problem with it, as long as I can lock the [stall] door. I use men’s restrooms if there is a long line at the ladies. I’m not going to wait if there’s nobody in line at this other bathroom, just cause it has a sign with a man on it.”
“Sometimes it’s nastier, which I don’t care for, but I don’t have a problem with that,” Stickley added.
But men also consider bathroom cleanliness. Preston Yancy, junior psychology major, said, “As long as they’ve got someone to clean them up, I wouldn’t mind them being unisex.”
Overall, Wallace said, “I’m not really worried about cleanliness, we have a great team on campus that works hard.”
Regarding the issue of safety, Wallace said, she does not think it “should be dignified … Oh God if there’s a girl in a bathroom and a guy walks in then he’s not going to be able to control himself from raping her, which is so ridiculous.”
Stickley agreed, “To assume that any man is going to act inappropriately just being in a bathroom with someone of the opposite sex is kind of ridiculous. You’re assuming then that most people are criminally minded or not right in the head; so, I think it’s not a valid concern.”
But for some it is a genuine concern. Emily Ernst, junior biology major said, “I don’t really care who I pee next to.” Although she is opposed to the idea of unisex restrooms. “I don’t think it would be safe. I’m not being sexist saying all guys attack girls, but if there is a guy and a girl in the same restroom it could cause problems,” she said.
Now that the SGA has passed the resolution, the Faculty Senate and Chancellor will have to approve it before any changes are implemented. If it passes, UALR would likely be the first university in Arkansas to have multi-stall unisex restrooms. In other states, unisex restrooms are already realities. The University of Colorado at Boulder and Oberlin College in Ohio both have unisex restrooms.
“That would be kind of radical if we were the first campus in Arkansas to have unisex restrooms,” Wallace said.