A new student petition, viewable at go/peeinpeace, urges the College to make all of its bathrooms in public spaces — such as libraries, dining halls and academic buildings — gender-neutral. Octavio Hingle-Webster ’17 and Matea Mills-Andruk ’18.5 are spearheading the campaign. Hingle-Webster’s involvement is inspired by personal experience.
“During the past year I have begun my transition from being a man to being someone who is neither a man nor woman,” they said. “When I go to the bathroom I often don’t know which one to go into, and I don’t necessarily feel safe going into the men’s or women’s bathroom depending on what I am wearing or how I’m feeling that day, and I know a lot of other people share these kinds of concerns.”
Hingle-Webster’s concerns have been expressed by the transgender and gender non-conforming community in the past. As a result, gender inclusive bathrooms do exist on campus, specifically on residence halls where students decide whether or not to have them at the beginning of each semester, and in the McCullough Student Center.
In 2011, after collaborating with an ad hoc group of students that published a review of the potential student life issues for the transgender community, the College announced its plan to create more gender-neutral restrooms. The specific goal was to provide support for the safety and health of Middlebury’s transgender students, faculty and staff. By the start of the 2011-2012 academic year, the signs of all non-residential single stall restrooms were changed to include both male and female symbols, as well as the universal symbol of accessibility. But because not all spaces have single-stall bathrooms, the project was limited, and has not been thoroughly addressed since.
“There was a lot of work to get gender neutral bathrooms in place in 2011, and I truly appreciate that,” Hingle-Webster said. “But it seems like the administration conveniently [forgot] that this is still an ongoing issue for a lot of students here.”
The petition questions the College’s consistent placement of “cisgender [comfort] over the very real needs of trans and gender non conforming people in public places.”
“This is a question of safety at Middlebury, and if students are being harassed in these bathrooms, or suffering severe psychological harm, then we need to change,” Hingle-Webster said.
Hingle-Webster suggested that not only would the proposed changes make bathrooms a safer space for trans and gender non-conforming students, but it might also cause all students to question their understanding of gender as a rigid binary. Physical male-female separation is observable in many spaces, but in bathrooms that distinction is clear through signage and experienced on a daily basis.
To students who might feel uncomfortable sharing a bathroom with a member of the opposite gender, Hingle-Webster suggests that gender is a construct that is based in how we see ourselves and understand ourselves to be. Despite this, rendering all bathrooms gender neutral, not just the single stall ones, would be a huge adjustment for Middlebury, and potentially sensitive for some.
Students interested in furthering the gender-neutral bathrooms mission at Middlebury should visit go/peeinpeace to read the entire petition.