Downingtown campus attempts to meet gender neutral bathroom request

By Dean Galiffa 

20170223_Transgender

When a student contacted Stephanie Sarafinas, associate professor and counselor at DCCC’s Downingtown campus, about plans for a gender-neutral bathroom in the upcoming STEM complex, Sarafinas said she acted immediately.

“The topic arose several times this past semester,” said Sarafinas. “Initially, I asked Amy Williams, the assistant dean of Retention and Completion, in September. She told me that there were plans to include a gender-neutral bathroom in the new STEM complex, but [they] are now off the table.”

Tonino DeLuca, director of Plant Operations and Construction Services at DCCC, explained that the future Downingtown STEM complex did not meet the requirements for a gender-neutral bathroom.

“Plumbing has to be in the right location for drainage purposes,” DeLuca said. “Space was the issue for the new building. The basement has mechanical and electrical rooms that cannot be removed. We had to question if a gender-neutral bathroom was viable when considering a location.”

DeLuca added that Plant Operations are unable to replace gender-specific with gender-neutral bathrooms due to the number of occupants to plumbing fixtures ratio.

Plant Operations is planning on having two gender-specific bathrooms on the first floor of the Downingtown STEM complex and are attempting to install a gender-neutral bathroom on the first floor of the main building.

Like DCCC, many colleges and universities are begining to recognize the value of installing gender neutral bathrooms becuase of the psychological benefits to transgender students.

A study at Georgia State University used the National Transgender Discrimination Survey to analyze the correlation between transgender students committing suicide and being denied access to gender-neutral bathrooms.

The article, written by Kristie L. Seelman, assistant professor at the Andrew Young School of Policy Studies for the Journal of Homosexuality, writes, “Transgender university and college students are at a significantly higher risk for suicide attempts when their campus experience includes being denied access to bathrooms and gender-appropriate campus housing.”

The Trans Resources page of West Chester University’s website lists more than 50 single-occupancy bathrooms on campus, including those in administrative and residential buildings.

According to the Temple University Student Guide to LGBTQIA Life, the campus has more than 40 gender-neutral or unisex bathrooms throughout the campus.

Drexel University offers students gender-inclusive housing, an option by which students share a room and “internal/external bathrooms regardless of biological sex, gender expression, gender identity or sexual orientation,” according to the university’s website.

The DCCC Marple campus has two single-occupancy bathrooms that are referred to as gender neutral by some students and faculty members,.

“Any gender, no matter how they identify, can use that bathroom,” said Associate Director for Advising and Support Ryan Jeral when referring to the single-occupancy bathroom near the Marple campus’ Career and Counseling Center.

According to Jeral, the counselors worked with DeLuca to have an easily-accessible gender-neutral bathroom nearby.

“As counselors, we work with students on a very personal level,” Jeral said. “We know the accommodations they need and set them as priority. It is a basic human right to feel safe and comfortable when using the bathroom.”

Max Avener, a math instructor at the Marple campus, wishes that no bathrooms on campus were gender-specific.

Preferring to go by they/them pronouns, Avener is a non-binary person, meaning they do not identify as male or female. Avener commonly uses the gender-neutral bathrooms on campus, but occasionally has difficulty accessing them.

“Sometimes I’ll teach two classes [back-to-back] in the STEM building and not have time to use the gender-neutral bathrooms in the academic building,” Avener said. “I often go to use the gender-neutral bathrooms and they’re occupied. I’ll end up using the women’s restrooms.”

Avener explained that anyone can use the gender-specific bathrooms, but they would benefit from having more gender-neutral bathrooms on the Marple campus.

“The default right now is that cisgender people use the gender-specific bathrooms and transgender people have to find an alternative,” Avener said. “Having only non-binary bathrooms on campus would shift that expectation.”

Chris Dungee, a counselor at the Marple campus Career and Counseling Center, identifies as a transgender man, having transitioned nearly four years ago. He prefers to use the men’s bathroom.

“Unlike Max, I am not a proponent of free-for-all bathrooms,” Dungee said. “As a man, I’m not comfortable sharing a bathroom with someone who identifies as a woman.”

Staff members at the Marple and Downingtown campuses are currently working toward accommodating students’ needs and concerns.

Sarafinas recently contacted Marian McGorry, dean of Business, Computing & Social Science at the Marple campus, to further the process of a gender-neutral bathroom being built at the Downingtown campus.

Both McGorry and Sarafinas are chair members of the Institutional Resources Committee, one of seven standing committees forming the College Advisory System.

The topic was discussed at the committee’s meeting on Feb. 1, McGorry said.

Contact Dean Galiffa at communitarian@mail.dccc.edu