From washrooms to databases: Building a gender‑inclusive Dal

- November 20, 2012

One of campus' gender-neutral washrooms. (This one is in the Mona Campbell Building.)
One of campus' gender-neutral washrooms. (This one is in the Mona Campbell Building.)

When you’ve got to go, you’ve got to go. And Dal Allies believe you should feel safe and comfortable doing so.

That’s why Dal Allies has been working side-by-side with the university’s Office of Human Rights, Equity and Harassment Prevention and Facilities Management to increase the number of gender-neutral washrooms on campus, with the goal of making students, faculty, and staff feel welcome regardless of their gender identity or sexual orientation.  

Gaye Wishart, an advisor for harassment prevention and conflict management at Dalhousie, was chair of the Dal Allies board when the survey on gender-neutral washrooms was conducted.

“We did a survey of campus trying to find as many washrooms as we could that could be converted easily, and talked to Facilities Management about new buildings,” says Wishart.

Wishart notes that, happily, they were met with nearly no resistance to the project.

Co-ed campus

The Dalhousie website lists the locations of gender-neutral washrooms on campus. Laura MacIntosh, a peer ally, said the project has seen great success thus far.

“One awesome thing has been that the last couple of residences have been undergoing renovations and have been turning into completely gender-neutral facilities,” says MacIntosh, noting that this is a big change from residences in the past.

The new facilities are not just for the benefit of trans students, however. Wishart points out that other students and faculty might feel more comfortable in a single washroom due to privacy or health-related concerns, for example.

MacIntosh says it is an important issue for the Dal Allies organization because its members believe everyone should not only have a place where they can go, but where they belong.

“I identify as gender-queer, so I much prefer going to gender-neutral washrooms,” says MacIntosh. “If there is not that choice, I’ll go to the female, but I have people looking at me like I’m not supposed to be there. I don’t feel safe in that space. I know that I’m making people uncomfortable and I don’t think those students should feel uncomfortable.”

A step in the right direction

The washroom conversions are just the beginning of a more inclusive community. Other aspects of Dalhousie life are also getting a gender-neutral makeover.

 “Now, on the [student] application, students have the option to select ‘other,’ so it is not a forced gender choice,” says Wishart.

There has also been a makeover in terms of student databases. “Before, advisors could see all a student’s former names. They’ve changed it now so that only the current photo and name appear. So if students have changed their listed gender and name, people won’t be able to track that.”

This year, Dal Allies put together a video outlining its contributions to the campus community.

“It was filmed by Dal students, and it has people speaking from their experiences, personal journeys, and about the allies program,” says Wishart.

The video will be given to high school recruiters; Wishart hopes this will help some students who re-enter the closet in university because they cannot judge how safe the space is.

In tackling these initiatives one by one, Dal Allies is making positive change in the community, and they continue to take on projects that forward their goal, defined by MacIntosh as “making safe spaces for all students on campus.”

Adds Wishart: “We want everybody in the Dal community to take shared responsibility for what happens on campus. It is more about social responsibility of the campus community rather than policing. The more we can send that positive message and have people speak up and be part of a welcoming climate, the better we will be able to welcome and promote diversity.”


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