November 12, 2021 | LIFE | By Victoria Calton | Photo by Oliver Kraft
Safety and security are built around the values and actions of the community one lives in. Colorado College’s goal is to “foster an inclusive environment [where students] feel their basic needs are met,” said Bemis Hall Residential Advisor (RA) Sarah Higgins ’23. Student-led efforts to uphold this campus-wide promise of inclusivity have sparked discussion around how to implement gender-neutral bathrooms in some west campus residences.
On Oct. 15, 2021, in an effort to further CC’s mission to promote diversity and inclusion, CC Residential Life informed students living in west campus residences that they are beginning a conversation with administration about the possibiblity of implementing gender-neutral bathrooms in Bemis and Ticknor, with expanded options beyond the single gender-neutral bathroom in McGregor.
Although no plans have been made for the implementation of gender-neutral bathrooms in either dorm, many RAs in both dorms have professed their support for the implementation of gender-neutral bathrooms on each floor of both residence halls.
Higgins worries for the safety and comfort of non-binary students.
“Students should not feel questioned or judged when washing their hands or using the bathroom,” she said.
According to Higgins, creating safe spaces that are welcoming to students on campus is the first step to educational success and social comfort.
Even so, there are barriers that have postponed conversations of possible implementation of gender-neutral bathrooms. Due to state facility codes, no plans have been made toward creating any new gender-neutral bathrooms yet.
Along with other RAs, Higgins envisions the creation of gender-neutral bathrooms on all floors of both Bemis and Ticknor to accommodate gender non-conforming students. Higgins stated the possibility of converting preexisting bathrooms on the second and third floors of Bemis into gender-neutral bathrooms.
Angela Lowe, Residential Life Coordinator for the Old Town & Western Ridge Apartments, stated in an email, “Our hope is that residents [in] each building would have access to a gender-neutral bathroom in their residential space, and of course still have women and men’s restrooms available in each residential building.”
Lowe has found compliance with state facilities a priority. “The state facility code requires that multi-stall, gender-neutral bathrooms have stall doors and partitions that are tall enough and short enough (nearly floor to ceiling) to provide a user with more privacy,” Lowe said. To ensure the privacy of all users, tall partitioners and doors are needed.
Another deterrent from developing gender-neutral bathrooms is the structural integrity of Old Town buildings like Ticknor and Bemis.
“There are also facility concerns such as plumbing that we are currently assessing to determine which bathroom can be appropriately renovated and not cause facility issues for the building,” Lowe said.
For dorms like Bemis and Ticknor, renovations will be needed for expansive projects like adding additional bathrooms to residencies. Plumbing may present a concern regarding whether additional bathrooms could harm the overall water system.
Some Bemis residents support the idea of converting or renovating the building to create gender-neutral bathrooms for students.
“I think they could be helpful for those who identify as non-binary or transitioning to provide a safe space,” said a Bemis Hall resident who wished to remain anonymous. “There are also super unequal distributions of male and female identifying students on each floor so some genders get two showers for four students while others get two showers for 12.”
Residents believe it would be better to create new bathrooms through renovations because the current bathroom arrangement cannot accommodate the often varied distribution of women, men and gender non-conforming folks in Bemis.
“I don’t mind gender neutral restrooms that are singles, or the ones like in Palmer where stalls are floor to ceiling,” said another Bemis resident who also wished to remain anonymous. “However, Bemis bathrooms just seem like there would need to be some renovation in order to make everyone comfortable with them being gender-neutral.”
This resident would prefer renovations that improve bathroom access for everyone in the hall, while accommodating the needs and comforts of gender non-conforming students.
Although RAs in Bemis have suggested that bathrooms on the second floor (men’s bathrooms) and third floor (women’s bathrooms) be converted into gender-neutral bathrooms, Lowe has clarified that CC Residential Life would prefer to maintain access to women’s and men’s bathrooms on each floor.
It is important to ensure gender non-conforming students feel comfortable, but some other students and RAs believe that maintaining men’s and especially women’s bathrooms is pivotal to the safety of women on campus.
To support both gender non-conforming students and women in west campus dorms, some argue that the option of both women’s and gender-neutral bathrooms ensures the safety, privacy, and security of women and gender-neutral students alike.
As we work toward fostering a more inclusive community at CC, maintaining safety and security for others has raised questions.
“Something needs to be done…this year or the next [because] small change creates big change,” Higgins said.