After students from the Rainbow Pride Union submitted a petition to get gender-inclusive housing on campus, Residential Life has agreed to begin offering that option to students in the fall. This doesn’t just mean that transgender, gender-queer and gender-questioning students will have a space on campus to feel more comfortable and included. It means that all of us, no matter where we identify along the gender spectrum, will be a part of a more progressive, inclusive and accepting institution.
There are many ways to further create a community in which all students, wherever they align on the gender spectrum, feel comfortable, safe and accepted. This is a great step, and we’re grateful that the University listened to this call to action. However, we cannot only account for gender diversities in the places students sleep, but must extend services to the places where they eat, socialize and learn. As the process to hash out the details and logistics of this program begins, we have a few suggestions about how to further improve the lives of all students on campus.
One extra step would be removing gender pronouns on class listservs. Transgender students are often left to contact their professors directly in order to explain their preferred pronouns. This is often the first interaction that transgender students have with their professors — and subsequent interactions are dictated by the initial response of the professor. Though we’d like to think that all professors are understanding, sometimes they are not. In order to remedy this potential awkwardness, the University can both allow students to edit their preferred pronoun on a semesterly basis and allow the inclusion of an intersex box on University forms to account for students who do not identify as either male or female.
The University does a good job providing resources for transgender students seeking help through the Binghamton University Safe Zone, a network of faculty trained in providing a safe space for LGBT students, and the Multicultural Resource Center. We hope to see these resources made more visible by providing educational materials for transgender and questioning students alongside those distributed by the Real Education About College Health (REACH) vehicle. Residential communities can also help by distributing educational materials alongside the usual bucket of condoms and pregnancy tests. By making these materials more visible on campus, we would be, in effect, making these issues more visible and more commonly addressed as well, especially for students who need the information but are not yet comfortable speaking to someone in person about it.
While the New University Union was a missed opportunity to provide gender-neutral bathrooms, there are still plenty of opportunities to create gender-neutral bathrooms or convert existing ones. They could be added to the Student Wing, which will have to undergo some renovations when the services there move over to the old Dickinson dining hall. The Old Union currently has single-stall bathrooms in the basement, which could easily be re-labeled from “family bathrooms” to something more inclusive for trans students. They could even just say “bathrooms.” Places like dining halls and the New Union, which have multiple bathrooms already, lend themselves to gender-neutral options, too. This conversion is not merely a way to prevent quizzical looks as students exit bathroom stalls. It gives transgender students the signal that the University cares enough about their welfare to go the extra mile. Transgender students already deal with feelings of alienation from the rest of society. It is our responsibility to quell those feelings in whatever way possible, even through something as simple as a bathroom lacking the usual pictures of stick figures with triangle dresses or broad shoulders.
Bringing a school into the 21st century means more than simply building Skype rooms and installing smart boards. It means adjusting to the needs of our students and responding to the pressing social issues of our time. We hope that in the coming months, our suggestions will be taken into consideration, and we are excited and proud to see the new direction in which Binghamton University is going.