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Preparations commence for new gender-inclusive spaces

Claire Montgomery

Senior News Writer

On Nov. 5, President Bolton wrote the campus community regarding updates to gender-inclusive campus spaces. Because of possible changes in the federal protections of transgender people under non-discrimination statuses such as Title IX, Bolton wanted to affirm to the College that “transgender and gender non-conforming people have long been an important part of the Wooster community, as they are in communities across the country and around the world. They have every right to an equitable and fully welcoming experience on our campus — and beyond it.” Bolton continued, “We will continue to work to ensure that The College of Wooster meets that goal, whatever changes in statutes may come.” 

Bolton then proceeded to give an update of the progression of spaces on campus that are inclusive for people of all gender identities and gender expressions. “Last year and this year, the residential life team has been working with students to ensure that restroom spaces in all residence halls serve all students well, starting with the upper-class halls,” read the email. 

When asked about the process of instituting all-gender restrooms in residence halls, Nathan Fein, director of Residence Life commented, “This process is not going to be just about the bathrooms, but about individual living spaces that will allow people with various gender identities more freedom on where they will able to live, the main focus being on the safety and comfort of our residents.” Fein continued, “We are in the process of solidifying our all-gender policy. This does include how we think about restrooms.” 

In order to ensure that residence halls serve all students, Fein said, “We have been reaching out to various student groups on campus as part of housing selection [such as]: SGA [Student Government Association], IGC [Inter-Greek Council], First Generation Student Organization [FGSO], Luce Language Faculty and WVN [Wooster Volunteer Network]. We have also surveyed students in relation to what they are looking for in housing, such as Greek Students, First Generation Students and the entire campus population about All Gender Housing.” He concluded, “All of this has informed how we do housing selection as well as assigning spaces for various groups.”

Chair of Campus Council (CC) Annabelle Hopkins ’19 is one of the students involved in the work to create more all-gender spaces. “I have worked closely with ResLife in discussing the way Wooster treats gender through our housing and bathroom policies.,” said Hopkins. “Philosophically, many of us agreed that the College is not where it should be in terms of breaking down gendered barriers and providing safe facilities for all gender identities. I am proud of the work we have done, the communication we have had and the work that is to come in terms of breaking down these barriers.” 

“As we renovate and build new spaces, we are looking to provide single, private, locking bathrooms that have a private shower and toilet. We are continuing to work with facilities to make changes to existing bathrooms to allow for more all- gender restrooms in the residence halls,” Fein continued. He added that first years can select the all-gender housing option “that does have easy access to an all-gender restroom.”

Another recent effort to create more all-gender spaces is the addition of an all-gender locker room in the Scot Center. “Student affairs, facilities management and athletics have worked together to identify space for, and construct, a temporary all-gender locker room on the second floor of the PEC, just outside of Timken Gymnasium. This is a private, single-person facility, which includes a shower, sink, toilet, lockers and bench.  A permanent all-gender locker room will be constructed as a part of phase two of the PEC/Scot Center renovation, to be completed next year,” said Bolton in her email. 

“The all-gender locker room space was announced by Dean of Students Scott Brown earlier this semester at SGI’s [Sexuality and Gender Inclusion] Queering Campus Climate event (a part of the Gender and SexualiTea series),” Myra Praml ’19 said. Praml is the gender and sexuality diversity representative of CC. “I think that it represents the increasing visibility of queer and gender non-conforming folks on our campus, and the growing valuation of queer voices. The temporary all-gender locker room and the plans for the construction of a permanent all-gender space demonstrate the constant necessity for efforts to be directed at making the College a welcoming and safe place for all who call it home,” said Praml. 

Department Chair and Director of Physical Education, Athletics and Recreation Keith Beckett and Assistant Athletic Director Ashley Reid commented, “We strive to provide a great experience for all individuals who utilize and visit our athletic facilities. In collaboration with numerous divisions across campus we are in the midst of two-phase, multi-year renovation of the PEC. The renovations to the physical education center provide us with the opportunity to review our current footprint and enhance athletic facilities to support numerous changes and upgrades. With the completion of phase one earlier this semester, during which the primary focus was on the performance gymnasiums and natatorium, we are entering the preliminary planning stage for phase two (with hopeful construction to begin later in the spring semester). The focus during phase two will include attention to locker rooms, storage spaces, the equipment room and meeting spaces.” 

Beckett and Reid explained that collaborative work will be emphasized in order to address facility needs related to all-gender usage and inclusivity. “As an intermediate step between the two phases, the College has just transformed the previous women’s restroom on the main PEC concourse from a single space to two functional spaces. We now have an all-gender space equipped with a restroom, shower, lockers and changing area as well as a separate women’s restroom,” Beckett and Reid added. 

Aubri McKoy ’20, captain of the Wooster women’s basketball team added, “The inclusion of all-gender locker rooms in The Scot Center is not something that directly affects me, but it will have an impact on my community which is equally as important.” Citing the first $33 million renovation on the Scot Center, McKoy continued, “The renovation was not only a physical transformation, but a psychological one as well. Donors wanted the College to enforce the motto, ‘every student, every day,’ and the inclusion of all-gender locker rooms in this space will work to further that statement. I hope that students will be inspired by this action taken by the College and that they will feel comfortable engaging in the many activities and amenities that Scot Center has to offer.”

“Generally, the all-gender locker room breaks barriers concerning access to a fitness facility that should be helping students — regardless of gender identity, gender presentation, sexuality, body size and ability — feel healthy and stay well,” said Praml. “Going to the gym shouldn’t be stressful. The particulars of a student’s identity shouldn’t factor into the equation. Rather, inclusive facilities- — whether they be locker rooms or restrooms — are necessary and must be prioritized so that all students have equal access to the resources needed to be happy, healthy and comfortable.”

(Photo by Toshiko Tanaka)

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