SUNY New Paltz administrators have announced the future implementation of gender-neutral facilities on campus.
The project, according to Architect Designer Micheal Weatherly, is projected to be finished at the earliest this winter break and, at the latest, sometime this summer.
The change for gender-neutral facilities has been in the works for quite some time, beginning with efforts made by former Student Association (SA) Executive Vice President Abe Uchitelle. Uchitelle wrote legislation for the project and met with directors on campus.
Current SA Executive Vice President Eve Stern picked up the project during her term by collecting data on gender-neutral bathrooms and calculating estimates for the project.
“It’s important for SUNY New Paltz to get on board with gender-neutral bathrooms as many other SUNY schools have already done so,” Stern said. “Gender-neutral bathrooms create a safe, comfortable environment, not just for the LGBTQ community, but for everyone in the New Paltz community. It sends a message to our community that we are tolerant, welcoming and conscious of gender issues.”
John McEnrue, the director of Facilities Design and Construction, recognizes the need for gender-neutral bathrooms as a way to allow everyone safe usage of school facilities.
“SUNY New Paltz recognizes the need for gender-neutral facilities,” said McEnrue. “All people should have the right to access public facilities without fear of ridicule or judgment, regardless of their gender identification.”
Implementing gender neutrality and still keeping in line with building codes can pose a challenge to the project, however.
The simplest way to implement these changes, Weatherly said, is to take current single-occupant facilities and convert them through signage into gender-neutral bathrooms. For buildings that only contain multi-stall bathrooms, SUNY New Paltz must make sure any new gender-neutral facilities installed would not take bathroom fixtures away from the facilities in place.
“The basic concept of the plumbing fixture count code is that in order to create a gender-neutral restroom, the overall fixture count in a building per code will not take away any toilet fixture counts from other occupants,” said Weatherly. “Sounds confusing, but is really designed to make a restroom available when needed.”
To Stern, the campus reception of these facilities poses its own set of issues. She thinks the students on campus who would not be open to these modifications are “people who are afraid of change, which is a problem with any new idea.”
“Some people may think gender-neutral bathrooms only affect the LGBTQ community, which they [don’t find] important to themselves, as well as many people who are not conscious of the idea of gender neutrality,” Stern said.
Joe Pine, a third-year fine arts major and president of the Queer Action Coalition, thinks that while the gender-neutral bathroom project is a step in the right direction, it falls short of a larger goal.
“Beyond this new policy, I think that more attention needs to be paid to the diversity policy on campus, which is quite lacking in comparison to other schools,” Pine said. “Some universities even offer gender-neutral housing; something which many have fought for on this campus, but it has been a losing battle.”