Blue Devils United, a student LGBTQ+ support and advocacy organization on campus, is pushing administration to add more gender-neutral bathrooms to campus dorms.
Although some dorms have gender-neutral bathrooms, they are often voted on by the residents of the hall, putting the needs of LGBTQ+ students in the hands of their peers.
BDU President Grace O’Connor, a junior, noted that the organization is passionate about the initiative because many LGBTQ+ identifying students have expressed concerns about the lack of gender-neutral bathrooms on campus.
“Even in dorms where there are gender-neutral bathrooms, or inclusive shower-bathrooms, they can be taken away when one student in the hall votes that they do not want a gender-neutral inclusive bathroom,” O’Connor said. “That can be extremely harmful where your space is only safe if every single person in the hall agrees that you should have that space.”
Many students have also expressed their discomfort of using the communal bathroom, citing that gendered showers and bathrooms are often the environment where sexual misconduct and harassment happens. O’Connor also noted that the bathroom and locker-room space has led to anxiety for non-binary students.
BDU discussed the project with Duke Student Government during winter break. The two organizations are hoping to move forward quickly.
“Our hope is this problem will be addressed as soon as possible,” O’Connor said, adding that they hope to see change in the next academic year, a goal she recognizes as ambitious but noting that “this is what we want.”
Since last semester, BDU has been working on a survey about the issue for students, staff members and campus groups. During the process of sending out the survey, O’Connor said the organization has received numerous testimonies that support BDU’s initiatives. She added that although some students mentioned that they want to keep single-gender bathrooms, most students want to have gender-neutral bathrooms.
“We had most people say, ‘Yes, we want gender-neutral bathrooms.’ Some people specifically said that they wanted single-stall bathrooms to be all-gender bathrooms. Some wanted both single-stall and multiple-stall bathrooms to be all-gender bathrooms. We did have a few people respond that they did not want more gender-neutral bathrooms because they feel uncomfortable,” she said.
O’Connor pointed out that BDU is not trying to get rid of all gender bathrooms because they recognize the need for them. “However, we want more gender-neutral bathrooms that are accessible for all students no matter where they live on campus,” she said.
BDU brought the survey to Housing and Residence Life to demonstrate the community’s support for adding gender-neutral bathrooms in every hall.
“We emailed the Dean and some other people in the administration about what our concerns are. In the meeting [with the administration], we were given the opportunity to really rethink first-year housing and make it more LGBTQ+ friendly,” O’Connor said. “We would love to add more gender-neutral bathrooms and change how people are roomed together. We want to look out for the most vulnerable members in our community.”
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Interim Dean for Residence Life Deb LoBiondo wrote in an email that she and Shruti Desai, associate vice president of student affairs for campus life, are currently reviewing the proposal developed by BDU and DSG.
“I am very open to adding all- gendered bathrooms in our residence halls—both on East and West Campus,” LoBiondo wrote. “Representatives from both BDU and DSG are aware of our commitment to creating a more inclusive environment in all our residential communities.”
She added that the architecture of Duke’s residential buildings may pose some challenges, but she is “sure there are ways to improve what is already in place.”
O’Connor said that so far, there has not been any problem working with HRL on this issue. The organization and DSG has sent a broader housing proposal to the Duke administration in late March, which included the issue of gender-neutral bathrooms.
“We are still waiting. The administration said they are reading the proposal, so we are anxious to see what they will adopt from the proposal,” she said. “We are very hopeful that the administration will implement some of the changes, ideally all of them, to make the Duke living experience more fruitful, safer, and more comfortable for the members of the LGBTQ+ community.”
In addition, O’Connor said that BDU is conducting research on the issue to explore the history of the exclusivity of binary bathrooms. They are reaching out to other colleges in North Carolina and looking for similar initiatives that have been implemented to recommend them to the Duke administration.
According to O’Connor, BDU is also working on a variety of other projects. These include trying to get students to add their pronouns to their DukeHub 2.0 profile and conducting a survey on whether faculty and staff are making students feel comfortable in the classroom.
O’Connor added that as the University is transitioning into more in-person classes, BDU hopes to teach students and professors how to deal with microaggressions inside classrooms.
“We are hopeful, we are excited, and we look forward to a future of inclusivity,” O’Connor said.