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Gender-neutral bathroom week marks fourth year on campus

In an increasingly diverse society, many previously unknown forms of self-identification are gaining recognition, including gender identities. Four years ago, a group of students at Washington State University Vancouver sought to begin a cultural shift regarding gender identities that go beyond binary “male” and “female” concepts. They created a week that they called Gender-Neutral Bathroom Week (GNBW).

GNBW is happening this week. In every building, the main floor bathrooms are marked as gender neutral, meaning anyone of any gender can use those bathrooms. On other floors in the buildings, the bathrooms will remain segregated for those who are uncomfortable using a neutral bathroom. In previous years the men’s room would be neutral on one floor while the women’s stayed the same, and on the next floor it would be the opposite; this created problems with people switching the signs to the opposite door and creating confusion. GNBW is designed to create a cultural shift in which people can comfortably go to the bathroom in peace, without being stared at or judged. This event is unique to WSU Vancouver and does not occur in Pullman or other campuses.

Shain Wright, a senior studying public affairs and human development, who leads GNBW said, “the signs aren’t a force field, there’s nothing stopping someone from going into any bathroom.” Wright initially got involved three years ago, during Wright’s freshman year, and took on the leadership role the following year. The initial administrative process was more taxing at the time. Initially, administration was concerned about the process and wanted there to be a monitor at every gender-neutral bathroom with walkie-talkies. When there were not any issues, they relaxed this requirement in following years. Now the administration knows that GNBW will happen and there is not much to do except get it put on the calendar and do the planning.

The message that Wright hopes students will take away from GNBW is that they “recognize the power they have in making our campus more inclusive and safe for all students … [and] remember that not everyone fits into what you think a ‘man’ or a ‘woman’ should look like, and that’s okay.” Wright also wanted to clear up a common misconception about the Diversity Center’s involvement in GNBW. The Diversity Center has no direct involvement in GNBW and the Gender Inclusivity Committee, a student club, instead manages it.

One of the cultural shifts that GIC would like to see happen is the desegregation of single stall bathrooms. They are initially starting their efforts in the local community. Single stall bathrooms are those bathrooms, such as at a gas station, where one person can only use it at a time. While this segregation is a cultural norm, there is really no need for it. It is inconvenient for the customers, especially if one bathroom is empty while they wait in line. Other concerns with this also exist. In some of these facilities, changing tables for babies are only in the women’s bathroom, and fathers have difficulty with taking care of their child.

Anh Ong, a junior in mechanical engineering, thinks that the idea is interesting. She noted that if she was using the restroom and a man came in, he would just go to another stall and there would not be much of an interaction. Ong anticipates that while she will not take an active participation in GNBW, but she would not likely be perturbed if a guy went into the women’s restroom while she was using it, especially because she does not generally view bathrooms as a place for hanging out.

As a result of a petition last year to end GNBW, this year includes more information available and more resources. Prior to GNBW, the campus hosted a panel of religious leaders, who will be available to help students with any theological concerns regarding the support of GNBW, and a game of Jeopardy about the history of gender. The week began with an art reception in the Firstenburg Student Commons, and Thursday they are holding an event titled “Engage In” from 10:30 a.m. to 12:00 p.m. in Firstenburg Student Commons.

Wright also wants people to know that there also will be an open forum after GNBW for students to voice their concerns. This forum has been used in the past to generate new procedures during GNBW as well as to increase resources. Anyone wishing to express concerns about GNBW should attend the open forum at the end of the week, on Friday at 10:00 a.m. in the VDEN room 129.

Wright says that anyone wanting to get involved with GIC or GNBW should send Wright an email at wright.shain@gmail.com or stop by the Diversity Center. There will also be a table in the quad throughout the week that students can stop at to ask questions. For more information students can also visit the GNBW Facebook page or wsuvgenderdiversity.wordpress.com/gnbw/frequently-asked-questions

Photo Credit: Meredith Williams and Janae Teal

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