This week brought news that the University will add gender-neutral bathrooms to a smattering of campus buildings, including Tech. NBN sat down with Morgan Richardson, Communication junior and co-President of Rainbow Alliance, to talk about her organization and the campaign to increase gender-neutral options in general.
What is Rainbow Alliance’s mission?
Rainbow Alliance’s mission is to create a safe space on campus for all LGBTQ students to raise awareness about issues of civil and human rights, marriage equality, to help bridge the queer and straight communities on campus and to provide a place for LGBTQ students to learn about their cultures, as well as the different cultures within the LGBTQ community. We also plan activism, social and educational events.
When and how did the petition for more gender-neutral bathrooms come about?
On the Rainbow exec board there’s a transgender man....He spends his life in Tech and noticed there are no gender-neutral bathrooms in the building so if he’s in Tech for all of his classes and he can’t use the bathroom, that’s ridiculous. He has to leave, find a gender-neutral bathroom and run back to class. That’s just really inconvenient. So we decided to look more into where the gender-neutral bathrooms are on campus. There are only nine of them. Four are in University Hall, which is cool, but we feel like there should be at least one in every building on campus. Dorms are also a problem, but since dorms also have shower stalls, it becomes more complicated. For right now we’re just focusing on having at least one gender-neutral bathroom in every academic building on campus.
Right now we have about 450 [signatures] on the website and 100 on paper. It’s a good start but we definitely want to take the next step, getting ASG involved so that we have some sort of resolution of the student body at large behind this petition. Then we want to have a meeting with VP of Student Affairs Patricia Telles-Irvin or someone else involved with facilities management, whoever is the right person to talk to about this to see what steps need to be taken to implement this initiative.
What kinds of obstacles would prevent the university from fulfilling the petition’s requests?
This is not a new idea – the LGBT resource center, Rainbow Alliance and other LGBTQ-focused groups on campus have been pushing for gender-neutral bathrooms for years. Usually the biggest pushback is that the administration will claim that there’s a law stating that if a bathroom is designated female, then men cannot enter it. The obvious problem with that is gender-neutral bathrooms would be designated as gender-neutral. So that law does not come into effect.
Also, they’ll say that multi-stalled gender-neutral bathrooms could upset some people’s modesty or religious concerns and we totally understand that. We’re just pushing for single-stall gender-neutral bathrooms.
On top of that, there are concerns about money and how much it will cost to convert the bathrooms, or if there’s a bathroom that doesn’t have any single-stalled bathrooms, they’d have to build one, taking away time and money.
There are a lot of roadblocks coming as pushback from the administration. Even two years ago, gender neutral housing was being implemented for the first time and they wouldn’t change the bathrooms to be gender-neutral. A transgender person, if they lived there, would still have to choose between two bathrooms, which defeats the purpose of gender neutral housing – it’s supposed to be neutral. Most resistance is coming from the administration.
How is Rainbow Alliance approaching this resistance from the administration?
Using the petition, working with ASG and hopefully using that leverage to get through and have meetings with administrators to see how we can get this done. Usually in the past they’ll say ‘No’ and we’ll just let it go, but this time we just have to keep pushing for it. We’ve learned from instances like the fucksaw last year that the administration doesn’t hate anything more than bad press. So if we make a big enough stink about his, and if enough people outside of Northwestern find out about this, then they will start to care. There are many other schools that are our main competitors – Columbia University, University of Chicago – that have some sort of gender-neutral initiative for their students. If we have to make prospective incoming students in future years know that Northwestern does not have these but other schools do, and if they choose other schools because they feel like Northwestern doesn’t try to accommodate their needs, then let’s do that because Northwestern cares about its reputation more than anything. We need to attack that if the administration keeps resisting this initiative.
What’s next for Rainbow Alliance? What are some future goals in addition to the gender-neutral bathroom petition?
Right now we’re under the Center for Student Involvement which is run out of Norris. We’re moving to be under Multicultural Student Affairs. We’re hoping with we’ll get more space for LGBTQ students to have somewhere to go. For example, African American students can go to the Black House on Sheridan Road and have a place to meet, have study breaks. The LGBTQ community doesn’t have that because the LGBTQ resource center is a tiny office where only four people can fit. There’s no place for LGBTQ students to come to. That’s something we’re hoping will unify the LGBTQ community more.
Additionally, we’re doing an activist event at the end of the quarter, and another event where people can come by to tie-dye their own T-shirts and all the proceeds will go to the Heartland Alliance, which helps homeless youth. More than 75 percent of homeless youth are LGBTQ teens who have been kicked out of their homes for being gay. We’re hoping to raise a lot of money for that.