By Alyssa Diaz
As universities throughout the nation work toward a more accessible and inclusive environment, Barry University will also see advancement in this arena as two new gender-inclusive restrooms are being assigned on campus.
Questions concerning students' rights have been voiced by the LGBTQ+ community, who have pointed to the intimidation or anxiety that transgender students may feel while accessing gendered restrooms.
The responsibility of implementing gender-inclusive restrooms ultimately falls to facility management at the university.
According to Campus Pride, only seven of the 367 schools and universities that offer gender-inclusive facilities are in Florida. This includes FAU, FIU, FSU, UCF, UF, USF and UNF. These numbers are getting other schools to follow suit.
Five years ago, Barry University installed three restrooms that are gender-inclusive on campus. One is in Thompson Hall and the other two are in LaVoie Hall. In Thompson Hall, two more restrooms are currently being converted into gender- inclusive spaces.
Kenny Ma, Barry’s director of communications, said university officials do not have an exact date when the two additional restrooms will be ready for use.
The Barry's Mission and Student Engagement department issued the following statement on this matter:
“Gender-inclusive restrooms are open to anyone to use. Since the gender-inclusive restrooms were installed, we have received positive feedback from the campus community. We have not had any reported issues. However, if issues do arise, we encourage anyone who is impacted to contact the Dean of Students. As a reminder, Barry University's non-discrimination policy prohibits discrimination based on race, creed, color, ethnicity, national origin, ancestry, religion, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression, genetic information, familial status, marital status, pregnancy, age, disability status or veteran status.”
Barry is conscious of these challenges and obstacles and aims to ensure all faculty, staff, students and visitors are comfortable when they come to campus. Colleges are becoming increasingly more aware of the effects a seemingly small adjustment like this could have on the university community.
“I hope other students will have a positive or neutral reaction. Adding a bathroom does nothing to them so there is no reason to react negatively,” said Emilyanne Eckardt, a psychology freshman and part of the LGBTQ+ community. “These bathrooms can create inclusive spaces.”
According to Eckardt, students who identify as non-binary or transgender don't always experience a feeling of security when using a traditional bathroom.
Approximately two-thirds of transgender adolescents stay clear of school bathrooms out of a sense of discomfort or unsafety, based on GLSEN data.
“I have a friend who is transgender. He had a hard time when choosing a bathroom because he presents as male. If he goes in either bathroom, there are questions or stares. If gender neutral bathrooms were available, it would solve many problems for people in similar situations,” said Eckardt.
However, gender-inclusive restrooms are still creating controversy today.
Some may contend that the inclusion of these restrooms is unnecessary. Primary concerns of those opposed to these restrooms, according to Washware Essentials, is because they might increase the number of sexual assaults or other people may have religious objections to them.
“There are three good reasons to be against gender-neutral bathrooms. They are pointless. They are wasteful. They are sexist,” said Madeleine Kearns, a staff writer at the National Review. “Why are colleges and businesses now spending millions of dollars in accommodating the demands of activists supposedly speaking on behalf of a minority? Who knows.”
The question of where to place them or whether there is capacity for them may also come up.
“Barry University converted existing restrooms into gender-inclusive restrooms for all to use. Since the restrooms were already in existence, limited resources were used to convert them,” said Ma.
Institutions like Barry which add gender-inclusive restrooms are removing the dangers that some students might face in conventional restrooms.
For example, University of Pennsylvania swimmer Riley Gaines asserted that the NCAA should create segregated locker rooms for transgender players while appearing on FOX's America Reports last July.
Gaines told FOX that swimmer Lia Thomas - the first transgender Division I athlete to claim an NCAA championship in March 2022 - displayed "male genitalia" to her and others in the women's room.
“That to me was worse than the competition piece. Not even probably a year, two years ago, this would have been considered some form of sexual assault, voyeurism,” she said.
According to her Twitter account, Gaines testified of the incident again in late January, and hopes to see a change soon.
At Barry, cisgender individuals, those who prescribe to their gender of birth, can continue to utilize existing binary bathrooms but they too have the option to utilize the new gender-inclusive restroom.