The University of Louisiana at Lafayette has made the single-use restrooms around campus gender-neutral, updating the signage to simply read “restroom.”
The process began earlier this year, with the university identifying the single-use restrooms that were accessible to the public, as well as checking which ones were also handicap-accessible. These restrooms have since been updated with the new signage reading “restroom” in print and braille, as well as a symbol to indicate if they’re handicap-accessible.
Currently, the university is working on a map of the locations of all gender-neutral bathrooms around campus. The map, when completed, will be posted on the university website.
Kiwana McClung, the Chief Diversity Officer for the Office for Campus Diversity, spoke about the need for gender-neutral bathrooms for faculty and the student body.
“We just saw the chatter, the social media posts, people saying ‘Hey, like this is a problem, we need this.’ So we were just kind of staying on top of the public opinion about it,” McClung said.
Doc Theriot, a sophomore majoring in computer science, shared their discomfort with going into gendered restrooms.
“As someone who is trying to transition, some days I’m uncomfortable going into the restrooms. Sometimes I don’t know if I’ll make people uncomfortable going into the women’s restroom and the men’s restroom scares me,” Theriot said.
Updated signage is just one part of the university’s efforts to make LGBTQ+ students feel safe and included on campus. The Office for Campus Diversity sets up Project Allies training workshops, mainly attended by faculty, to help people understand and be a better ally to those in the LGBTQ+ community.
The Office for Campus Diversity also provides pronoun pins, available to anyone that stops by their office in Martin Hall Room 243.
“All of them are a hit with people and we find that faculty like them because they can wear their pronouns and it’s kind of a way to show their support as well,” McClung said. “And I think students feel a little bit more comfortable when they see a faculty member or staff member wearing their pronouns.”
McClung also spoke on the alienation that members of the LGBTQ+ community may feel, and how her office and the university strive to make campus a welcoming place for them.
“We’re here to support our LGBTQ population because it’s hard, they deal with a lot. You know, you look at the statistics of what they have to go through,” McClung said. “Just housing and issues with housing, the homeless population, especially our homeless youth, a lot of them are part of the LGBTQ+ community. A lot of them are estranged from their families and it’s hard to go to college and try to live your lives and not have any contact with the people that were supposed to be behind you. So I’m glad that we have things like this, things that we can do that makes things a little bit easier for them.”
The National Coalition for the Homeless cites a report from the Williams Institute that states 40% of homeless youth identify as part of the LGBTQ+ community, owing to social stigma, discrimination, rejection by their families and difficulty finding shelters that accept and respect them.
The Office for Campus Diversity welcomes and wants to help any students that might need assistance with issues they’re facing.
“If students have an issue that they think is related to their identity, they come to us just to have us mediate or just to kind of get advice from us about it,” McClung said. “Sometimes we just serve as an advocate, just to go through people and say ‘Hey listen, this student’s having this issue, maybe they don’t know how to talk to you about it.’ So we definitely are an office of advocates.”
The university allows for students to update their preferred name by completing a Preferred Name Request Form available on the university website. Though the policy is in place for students to be able to do this, McClung shared that the registrar’s office is still working on making sure that the student’s name is updated on as many systems as possible.
“So the policy is there. They’re just working out the bugs to get the whole thing to work. So I would ask people to be patient, I know it’s been a long time,” McClung said. “But know that there are some dedicated and hardworking people trying to get it up and running. And I think it’s gonna make a difference for a lot of people once it’s finally done.”
McClung also shared the other work the office does, such as working with different colleges and departments who want to start their own diversity advisory council, having a Women’s Leadership Conference every March and hosting the Courageous Conversations series of workshops.
“We have different speaker series or panel discussions about topics that are really hard, uncomfortable. But necessary to ensure that everybody belongs and is getting the information that they need to make a more inclusive campus,” McClung said.