The University of Louisiana at Lafayette plans to incorporate gender-neutral bathrooms into various on-campus buildings.
Administration recently decided to designate certain single-use bathrooms
as non-gender-specific bathrooms. According to Vice President of Student Affairs Patricia Cottonham, the university has started the process by identifying all of the single-use bathrooms on campus.
“So we have a good sort of starting point on which bathrooms we should
try to convert to gender-neutral and not sort of a male or female only destination,” Cottonham said. “So we have those identified. The president has given
the directive that he wants us to move forward with the new signage.”
The discussions about the bathrooms has been ongoing amongst one of the on-campus committees called the Equity Caucus for approximately a year, and with the committee’s information, administration initiated the operation with a more specific plan.
However, other students and teachers have made efforts ahead of the university.
Beth Stauffer, an associate professor in the biology department, along with her fellow department faculty changed one of the faculty bathrooms in Billeaud Hall into a gender-neutral bathroom
in October 2019. Although starting off with just a paper sign to recognize the bathroom as gender-neutral, Stauffer and her colleagues wanted to look for opportunities on campus to convert bathrooms.
“The department had said ‘we want this to be gender-neutral’. We have students who identify as the whole spectrum of gender or non-binary or trans, and so we want to make sure that our building is inclusive,” Stauffer said.
With the bathroom designation, Stauffer also sent emails and attempted
to spark conversation about the need
for more gender-neutral bathrooms. However, entering 2022, Stauffer recently discovered the lack of specifics when it came to when the bathrooms would be in place and the pacing of the work.
“I asked recently, you know what the timeline was for all that. There was no timeline,” Stauffer said
Along with the criticisms of the timing of the actions taken towards establishing gender-neutral bathrooms on campus, Cottonham also shared how the
increase of student requests motivated administration’s decision.
“The university may have been maybe a little behind in all of this, but
I think the important thing is that we have recognized it, and we are trying to
putting in a work order with facilities
and explicitly describing the type of sign that was needed which would take away gender altogether and just say ‘Bathroom,’ she came back from winter break to see a sign saying ‘Women/Men.’
“There’s a little bit of maybe confusion or lack of understanding of what’s the difference between a man/woman or unisex bathroom sign versus just no
gender or gender inclusive,” Stauffer said. Stauffer tweeted about it with a picture
of the bathroom sign on Jan. 19 saying, “My dept requested #GenderNeutral, #genderinclusive bathroom sign in our building @ULLafayette back in Sept, complete with example signs. Many emails, a couple phones, and some nebulous “approval process” later, and this is what we got. Um, NOPE. TRY AGAIN.”
Other students and faculty expressed their disapproval for the choice of signage.
A statement sent to The Vermilion by Loic Bourdeau from members minoring in Gender and Sexuality Studies said “Providing gender-neutral restroom facilities is long overdue at UL, and the committee members of UL’s Gender and Sexuality Studies Minor appreciate the efforts of many of our colleagues to make our campus more accessible to all.”
“However, we are deeply disappointed in the chosen signage for the gender- neutral bathroom in Billeaud Hall. The sign conveys an outdated and inaccurate message to our community and is hurtful to individuals whose gender identity does not align with this binary representation.”
The university is in the process of determining what future steps need to be taken after replacing and developing signs.
According to Cottonham, the university’s objective is to ensure a better environment for the LGBTQ+ community and the whole student body.
“I understand if part of that community or just the general community feels like we’ve been slow to move with this, but, I feel like the university is responding. The university knows what it needs to do and what its responsibility is. And we’re just hoping to make life for our students more comfortable,” Cottonham said.