BY TAYLOR ROBINSON
In an effort to increase diversity and inclusion at Washtenaw Community College, at least one gender-neutral bathroom has been introduced in every instructional building, effective at the start of the winter semester.
After the board of trustees revised Policy 8028: Policy on access, success and equity for diverse people, in November 2014 by adding “WCC promotes a climate of…gender identities and expressions…” it opened the doors to furthering the acceptance of those no matter what gender they are most comfortable with and express it freely.
In a campus-wide email from Linda Blakey, vice president for student and academic services, in early June of 2015, she reminded students, faculty and staff that “Title IX federal law protects all students, including transgender and students with non-conforming sexual identities.” She added that, “In the spirit of our commitment to diversity and nondiscrimination, any person on WCC’s campus may choose to use the restroom that corresponds to their gender identity.”
As the summer months turned to fall and school was back in session for the 2015-2016 year, this policy continued. WCC’s Out-space group, an LGBTQ+ student organization, reached out to their advisers to take this policy a step further.
According to 23-year-old information technology student, Chris Wheeler, and one of Out-space’s board officers, WCC’s Mary Mullalond and Cristy Lindemann “pushed really hard” to incorporate gender-neutral bathrooms on campus.
“They are multi-stall here which is fantastic, which is actually kind of uncommon,” Wheeler said. “Usually they are only single-stall, what they had in the GM building already. But, we had converted a bunch of gendered-female restrooms to gender-neutral ones.”
Damon Flowers, WCC vice president of facilities, grounds and campus safety, helped spearhead the conversion of the restrooms.
“Because most of the rooms we switched to are female… there were a few men’s, but the reason was that the women’s restrooms can be used by both genders, the men’s because of the urinals, can’t,” Flowers said. “It made more sense – you had better utilization of the women’s restroom.”
As a transgender male who has been personally affected by the installation of gender-neutral bathrooms, Wheeler speaks to the fact that these bathrooms not only encourage inclusion of everyone, but also provides a safer environment for those outside of the LGBT community.
“It helps a lot. I’m trans and it sucks because I don’t really pass very well so going into the men’s restroom I kind of felt really awkward, and going into the women’s, that’s the wrong restroom for me…” Wheeler said. “…The gender-neutral ones are perfect because it’s not a gendered restroom…and it doesn’t always out me as trans which is great because it’s safer, being outed kind of sucks and it could be a very dangerous situation if someone doesn’t agree with what I say about my gender.”
Wheeler explains that all people could benefit from gender-neutral bathrooms, particularly those with children, anyone who has a mental or physical disability, older people who may need assistance, and more.
“That’s perfect for them because other people can assist or help them (without having) to be the same sex as them,” Wheeler said.
Even though the gender-neutral bathrooms have only officially been in effect since Jan. 11, some student responses have been favorable.
“It’s a new age now, so it doesn’t bother me one bit. Accept everyone,” said Lindsey Nail, 25, of Ypsilanti.
In agreement was 15-year-old WTMC student Zora Westwalewicz, who said, “It’s really good, especially for the LGBT community. It’ll help them feel accepted wherever instead of having to choose.”
While Wheeler expresses how much it means to him that the school did this, there is one thing that he would add to even further increase diversity and inclusion across campus. He explains that when going into a gender-neutral bathroom, there’s a policy notice along with the nearest gender-specific restroom location if people feel uncomfortable.
Wheeler said that if the school incorporated signs on the gender-specific restrooms letting people know about the gender-neutral locations, it would increase awareness and decrease confusion.
“We appreciate the school actually working with us and trying to make the school a more inclusive place for everybody because that’s awesome and it makes WCC a safer place for everybody,” Wheeler said. “We hope to work with them to make it even better.”
Additional reporting by Michael Mishler, contributor.