According to Chapman University’s Cross-Cultural Center, 58% of transgender people avoid going out in public due to a lack of safe restrooms.
Throughout the day on Nov. 29, 2019, the Cross-Cultural Center transformed a limited number of bathrooms around campus into all-gender accessible restrooms to raise awareness of the daily struggle faced by transgender or gender non-conforming students.
“When you really don’t feel comfortable being in those places defined by the binary and having to make the decision because you can’t hold it and you can’t wait to just go to the all gender restroom, that can feel very dehumanizing at times” said senior film studies major Diana Alanis (she/her/hers). “It really feels like an attack on your identity when it’s so institutionalized that you go into one or the other.”
Alanis was one of the student workers from the Cross-Cultural Center who helped set up this year’s all-gender restroom day.
While the general message of the annual event is one of positive growth, many students feel that Chapman could be doing much more when it comes to the issue of accessibility for students who don’t feel comfortable fitting into the standard gender binary.
“I think it’s a little bit of a slap in the face,” said Connie Ticho (she/her/they/them), a senior anthropology and film production major.
Shishei Tsang (she/her/hers), the program coordinator for Student Engagement who oversees the Cross-Cultural Center, understands the students frustration.
Tsang said the university is moving in a positive direction, but changes do come slowly in a bigger institution like Chapman.
“As an administrator who is pushing this initiative forward I don’t feel challenged, it’s been a good conversation working with campus partners and they are pretty open,” Tsang said. But ultimately as she mentions, “the students are the stakeholders who are really important in this conversation.”
“I don’t want the school to use [this event] to say look we did this thing one day, we’re done, we did it,” said Ricky King (they/them/theirs), a junior broadcast journalism and documentary major and a student worker at the Cross-Cultural Center.
Even though the event is a step in the right direction, these students still see room for growth.
Because all-gender restroom day is just that: a single day-long event. Students are not given enough time to remove their associations with the gendered bathrooms and grow accustomed to the idea of a shared restroom for people of all gender identities. Many cis-gendered students stick to their routines and continue to use the restrooms that they’re used to.
“It’s more because I’m scared of getting picked on by the men in [the men’s bathroom]. It literally did not change anything. I still knew which one was the boys bathroom and which one was the girls bathroom,” said Ticho.
King, who helped organize this year’s event, said that, “As long as it gets people more critically thinking about which spaces are accessible for trans people, which is a lot of what that day is about, that’s a success even if people use the same rooms.”
Alanis reflects on her experience during the all-gender restroom day:
“At a very basic level it was that kind of fear of going into the restroom that I ‘wasn’t supposed to go into’ and I thought there’s people who feel like this at all times everyday and going to the bathroom is such a normal everyday thing,” said Alanis. “That’s something I never have to think about… It was just a very small taste of what I assume would be something that people feel everyday who have this issue.”
This year as in years past, the Cross-Cultural Center was limited to the number of bathrooms it was able to convert into an all-gender restroom for the day. In the Argyros Forum, the staff was not granted permission to convert the first floor bathrooms, and instead were given access to the less-visited second floor restrooms.
The limit on the number of bathrooms that were able to be converted brings to light the issue of accessibility for students who require all-gendered bathrooms. The only way to find the existing all-gendered bathrooms on campus if you do not already know where they are is through an interactive map on Chapman’s website. Even then, the bathrooms are not obviously marked, and many are just single-use restrooms.
Although justice cannot be brought to this cause in a single day, the event is a start and is crucial for igniting meaningful conversations within the Chapman community about the struggle that some students face on a day-to day basis.
King mentioned that there are other ways that the university can create a more welcoming environment to transgender and gender-noncomforming students. For example, they suggest that the men’s restrooms should also have free tampons and pads provided for the trans students that identify as male.
It is the little things that many people might not think about that could make trans and gender-nonconforming students feel more welcome on Chapman’s campus.