October 19, 2021

SUNY opening new doors

Cortland adds gender-neutral bathrooms on campus

Catherine Wilde/contributing photographer

Robert Sager, a SUNY Cortland employee, enters a gender-neutral bathroom Monday in Brockway Hall. SUNY Cortland is adding gender-neutral bathrooms to its building to help transgender people feel included on campus.

Walking into a bathroom at SUNY Cortland, visitors will see a sign that shows a sink, a toilet and a wheelchair — everything but the traditional outline of a man or woman.

This is part of a campus-wide initiative led by the Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity and Expression Committee to be more inclusive of transgender and gender non-conforming students.

About 90 percent of the campus buildings are equipped with gender-neutral bathrooms now, according to committee members, and all new builds or renovations require bids to include gender-neutral bathrooms in their designs.

The committee meets regularly to discuss ways the campus can be more inclusive of transgender and gender nonconforming individuals. The campus also has created an adhoc committee on transgender and gender non-conforming initiatives that is seeking comment from students and faculty about how to improve inclusion.

The gender-neutral bathrooms are a required component of bids on new buildings or building renovations, said Erin Morris, a co-chairwoman of the committee, chairwoman of the ad-hoc committee and also an assistant professor of sports management. The panel advocated for it and it’s a move that’s part of a national trend on college campuses.

“It is one of the biggest issues for trans and gender non-conforming individuals interacting in public spaces,” she said. “A lot of trans individuals don’t feel comfortable using gendered restrooms, so a lot of times they will honestly hold it for longer than is healthy.”

Alexander Warren of Cortland, a transgender man who graduated from Cortland High School in 2017, remembers the feeling well. In high school, he had to change in the nurse’s room for gym class or use the faculty bathroom.

“For a lot of trans youth, especially those not as confident in their abilities to be perceived as their aligned gender, they feel a lot of fear and apprehension especially when it comes to using a bathroom in public,” he said.

A gender-neutral bathroom avoids students having to effectively “out” themselves to their peers by going into a genderspecific bathroom and it avoids the risk of a student getting attacked in the bathroom, Warren said.

It also avoids the exclusion that trans students feel if they have to use faculty bathrooms, he said.

Initiatives of the Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity and Expression Committee at SUNY Cortland

• Creating gender-neutral bathrooms in all buildings.
• Allowing student and faculty e-mail signatures to state proper pronoun references and names.
• A full-time staff member dedicated to LGBTQ issues.
• A safe space or lounge area for LGBTQ students.
• More recognition of multiple, intersecting identities, such as LGBTQ students of color.

SOURCE: SUNY Cortland Sexual Oreintation and Gender Identity and Expression Committee

Gender-neutral bathrooms are a part of inclusion, said Jena Nicols Curtis, coordinator of women, gender and sexuality studies and a member of the committee, but so are pronoun references.

The committee is also working to revise college software to allow students to state their pronoun or name preferences, say Curtis and Morris.

Before his senior year in high school, Warren recalled sending all his teachers an e-mail specifying he identified as male.

“If there was the option for them (students) to do it online, without having to confront anyone, that would provide optimal comfort,” he said.

It would make it easier for teachers, said Curtis and Morris. Morris passes out a sheet toward the end of the first week of a semester, asking students about themselves, including inquiries about their names and pronoun references.

“I think our real task is to make sure all of our students, regardless of identity, feel safe enough and welcome enough on campus to go to faculty and staff and say this thing that is happening doesn’t work for me,” Curtis said.