More than half of the single-occupancy restrooms on campus have dropped their traditional male and female designations in the past year in favor of more inclusive gender-neutral signage.

Gender-neutral bathrooms can now be found in high-traffic areas across West, Central and East Campus like the Bryan Center, Perkins Library and most residence halls, as the result of a joint initiative by students from Duke Student Government and Blue Devils United. Many single-occupancy facilities are now labelled with an image of a toilet, replacing former signage that was exclusively male, exclusively female or “unisex.”  Most of the sign changes took place during the summer while students were away.

“I’m so excited that there is student interest in [the gender-neutral bathroom project],” said senior Ilana Weisman, executive vice president of DSG. “If one or two or a handful of students feel more safe and appreciated and welcomed on campus because there’s not a stick figure on a bathroom door, then it makes it worth it.”

As these changes gradually spread to the remainder of Duke’s single-stall bathrooms, the initiative’s focus will now turn to making these gender-neutral bathrooms more easily accessible to the community, namely trans and gender-nonconforming individuals who could require those facilities for their privacy and safety. Although Weisman said she expects that all future construction of new buildings will include gender-neutral restrooms, she wants to advocate for accommodations in buildings that may not currently have any single-occupancy restrooms, such as those on Science Drive.

But the initiative’s goal of converting more multiple-stall restrooms, she admitted, will be a bit more contentious, though she pointed out that gender-neutral multiple-stall bathrooms already exist on the third floor of West Union and at the Center for Documentary Studies.

Junior Alice Reed, vice president of advocacy and policy at BDU, agreed with Weisman, saying that the notion that trans and gender-nonconforming people are going to be sexually violent if allowed into bathrooms is incorrect. 

“There have no reported cases of trans and gender-nonconforming people perpetrating violence in bathrooms, but there have been droves of cases of violence being perpetrated against trans and gender nonconforming people in bathrooms,” she said.

Reed said she recalled feeling frustrated by the starts and stops in the progress of the gender-neutral bathroom initiative, especially considering that changing a bathroom sign was a “minor fix” compared to some of Duke’s larger projects, like the new West Union.

The gender-neutral bathroom initiative began in earnest last Fall after serious discussion the year before. Then, it was up to teams of students to catalogue every single-occupancy restroom on campus, a process that took most of the Fall semester. The project stalled in the Spring, but nationwide protest of North Carolina’s House Bill 2 pushed gender-neutral bathrooms up the administration’s priority list, both Weisman and Reed said.

The students involved with the initiative from DSG and BDU are proud of the work that has been achieved so far. Nick Antonicci, director of the Center for Sexual and Gender Diversity, and John Noonan, vice president for facilities, have been important administrative collaborators.

Still, Reed said she knows that more needs to be done to ensure the safety of attacked and marginalized trans and gender-nonconforming groups.

“President Brodhead, the chancellor [for health affairs Dr. A. Eugene Washington] and Coach K have come out to say, ‘I don’t support HB2. We as an institution don’t support HB2,’” Reed said. “So I would really like to see them and the administrators we’ve been working on this project with to put their money where their mouth is, and make this campus a safer space by prioritizing these changes.”