Students Petition Law School To De-gender Bathrooms

Exterior+of+Sullivan+Law+School+in+the+spring

Courtesy of Seattle University

A Seattle University law student, Seth Alexander, started a petition on campus for the School of Law to de-gender its bathrooms.

Alexander named lack of access as the main issue—the only readily accessible gender-neutral bathrooms in the building are on the third floor and are only accessible through the library.

Alexander and other gender non-conforming students often avoid going to the restroom while in the law school because of this.

“Due to the disproportionate amount of class time that I would miss, I do not really have the option of using the bathroom during class,” the petition stated. “Most days, I schedule my bathroom breaks and regulate my liquid intake. Sometimes, on busy days when I do not have a break, I will just wait until I get home.”

The petition also raised concerns about safety for gender non- conforming students who are forced to use gendered restrooms, citing a 2013 study conducted by UCLA in which 70% of transgender respondents reported denial of access, harassment, or assault when attempting to use gendered restrooms.

Cloie Chapman, a third-year JD candidate said that the issue of gender- neutral restrooms is one of safety. “For people who are trans or non- binary, the fear is very real and present,” Chapman said.

While Chapman understands the potential for discomfort, she believes that this change would mutually benefit everyone at the law school.

“I think we should really change our perspectives,” Chapman said. “Gender is fluid and we shouldn’t make people go to one room or the other just to use the restroom. I understand that some people have to come around to that, so part of this petition is an educational aspect.”

In a 2012 report from the Social Justice Leadership Committee of the Seattle U School of Law, many issues were raised concerning access to gender-neutral restrooms and awareness of their locations.

“Gender-neutral bathrooms are located in remote or difficult to access spaces where they are hidden from public view and are not always accessible during the school’s open hours,” the report stated.

Part of the recommendations from the report have not yet been acted upon, such as the advertisement of gender-neutral bathroom locations on the School of Law website. At this time, the School of Law website lacks any map or directory for gender- neutral restroom locations.

The Seattle U website has a map with markers for buildings with gender- neutral restrooms across campus, but not their specific location.

The report also called for a gradual de-gendering of the existing restrooms in the law school, involving remodeling them into multi-stall, gender-neutral spaces. A recommendation to implement this policy requires that all future additions to the law school have gender-neutral options on primary floors.

Alexander’s petition proposes some of the recommended changes from the 2012 report, most prominently the proposal to remodel the existing restrooms in the law school to accommodate gender non- conforming students.

Alexander agrees with the proposed remodeling—outlining this solution in his petition—and hopes that the petition will spark dialogue on the issue. “I believe in other people’s capacity to question and see beyond the narratives represented,” Alexander said.

Bryan Adams, Professor of Law, believes the petition to be a step in the right direction. “I think that the petition is a good idea and I think the letter is really well-written and reasonable in what it’s asking the law school to do,” Adams said.

Adams also expressed concern for the difficulty his gender non- conforming students face when they need to use the restroom. “Some of my students who are trans do not have options nearby where most of the classes are held,” Adams said. “The efforts that they have to go through to use the restroom in a place that’s safe and feels safe to them is a very real challenge.”

The petition has already received over two hundred signatures and encourages the support of many Seattle law institutions. Alexander is thankful for the support he has received during the process and is confident that the Seattle U community is supportive of the issue. “I expect the support from my peers because I’m aware of the kind of generation that we are, but from faculty, I have not expected that. To have that on my side has been very valuable,” he said. Awareness of the need for gender-neutral restrooms has increased on college campuses nationwide. How the Seattle U School of Law fits into this will likely be decided in the coming months.

Alexander stated that Annette Clark, Dean of the SU School of Law, has received the petition and is planning to meet with Alexander soon.

Erick may be reached at [email protected]