Since last year, the University of North Georgia has been implementing gender-neutral bathrooms across each of its campuses.
Dahlonega has 15, Gainesville has 12, Oconee has four and all the bathrooms on the Blue Ridge campus are gender-neutral. The Cumming campus does not have any gender-neutral restrooms.
“In 2016, a committee was formed that included Student Affairs, Multicultural Student Affairs and Facilities to identify restrooms on each campus that could be easily converted to gender-neutral,” Facilities Assistant Vice President Ken Crowe said. “Most of these were small, single-stall restrooms that we converted with signage and minimal upgrades.”
Janet Marling, Executive Director of the National Institute for the Study of Transfer Students, helped in the implementation of the restrooms on the Dahlonega campus.
“Providing gender-neutral bathrooms is just one of the important ways that, as an institution, we can demonstrate our commitment to inclusivity to our community members and families who find it difficult to navigate single-sex restrooms,” Marling said.
Marling’s job was to relay information from colleagues about the bathrooms to Facilities, which was working on the project.
“Given that many of our gender-neutral bathrooms are also single-stall and ADA accessible, these facilities are also inclusive to those living with disabilities and many others who appreciate the privacy of single-stall restrooms,” Marling said.
Several faculty and staff members pushed for the addition of the restrooms in Dahlonega, in particular Dr. Kelly McFaden of the education department. McFaden sent Marling several emails on the subject.
There have also been changes to add the gender-neutral restrooms at the Gainesville campus.
“The restrooms that used to be faculty/staff in Strickland are the ones that have now been converted to gender-neutral bathrooms,” history professor Johanna Luthman said. “The gender-neutral bathrooms are open to everyone: students, faculty and staff.”
One of the main differences on campus after the addition of gender-neutral restrooms is the reaction from the students.
“I think that gender-neutral bathrooms should have been implemented long ago,” transgender person and former UNG student Ethan Howard said. “There are so many parents with opposite-sex children, who are placed into an almost equally impossible situation in public, not to mention elderly people and people with disabilities who may require assistance in the restroom”
Howard, a student at UNG’s Dahlonega campus who graduated in May, was elated when UNG added the restrooms.
“I cried tears of joy,” Howard said. “But I still think that majors in the sciences are at a disadvantage in HNS [Health and Natural Sciences Building], and that at least one of those restrooms could be designated as gender-neutral.”
However, there is negative rhetoric surrounding the concept of gender-neutral restrooms and the overall safety of the students and faculty.
“I think that the real, constructive conversation is unfortunately being derailed by the non-issue of safety for cis people in the restrooms,” Howard said. “I call this a non-issue not because I don’t believe that violence in restrooms exists, I understand and respect women and their right to privacy, which is why I use the men’s room.”
In the early stages of his transition he couldn’t “just use the men’s room” because of the social stigma around transgender people using the bathrooms of their choice, Howard said.
“It wasn’t for myself — if that were the case, I’d have used any restroom where no one noticed my presence. I used the women’s restroom at first because the guys knew me and would have decided that I didn’t belong short of transitioning,” Howard said.
Now with the addition of gender-neutral restrooms on most of the UNG campuses, students and faculty like Howard have the ability to use the restroom without having to be concerned.
“Our objective continues to be to look for opportunities where we can provide these spaces at minimal capital cost,” Crowe said. “If there are areas that the campus community feels are under-served, I am happy to investigate possible solutions.”