Back in January, the StFX Students’ Union and StFX Phys-Ed Program partnered to launch the Washroom Inclusivity project, combatting the current lack of washroom accessibility on campus.
Finding that many students were unaware of the accessibility issues some individuals face on campus, project coordinators hoped to encourage critical thought regarding the spaces we occupy and often take for granted. Student-volunteers compiled information on the inclusivity of campus bathrooms in an effort to develop a comprehensive, digital map that would identify accessibility, gender neutral washrooms, and baby-change tables.
According to members of X-Pride who were involved last year, the StFX community was largely welcoming to the idea when it was first proposed, but couldn’t provide financial support to the project.
In the end, the initiative relied upon grant funding obtained through a leadership summit and the university was more than happy to work with the coordinators moving forward.
“Let’s challenge the assumptions that are reflected in our physical spaces,” read a post on the group’s Facebook page last winter, “And continue to make StFX a community where all of our students, faculty, friends and visitors feel welcome. Whether you are cisgender, transgender, non-gender conforming, in a wheelchair, a man with your small daughter or anyone else for that matter, you have the right to feel safe and comfortable in these spaces and to #peeinpeace.”
The initiative reached out to students for their input, and Mary Mae Isaac shared her experiences as an advisor to the project.
Isaac, a history student with cerebral palsy, spoke out about the barriers she has faced on campus, specifically the difficulty of accessing a washroom in her power chair.
“Oftentimes the elevators don’t work,” Isaac was quoted in an article by CBC. “You can really get stuck on the third floor, or maybe even on the bottom floor where there isn’t an accessible washroom.”
Modelled after a similar initiative at University of Toronto, the online map mentioned would allow people to locate the closest, most accessible washroom on campus relative to their individual needs. The map was also intended as “an educational tool to promote awareness and a document to encourage the future implementation of inclusive washrooms on campus.”
While this doesn’t provide a solution to the issue of accessibility, Isaac noted that it is an important step.
Rachel Hurst, former professor of Women’s and Gender Studies at StFX, who was consulted on the project, added that making the map available online would increase safety and comfort among students.
“Particularly for trans and gender nonconforming people,” Hurst said to CBC. “What they often report is that they have to really plan their day around accessing bathrooms.”
One survey of transgendered populations in Washington conducted by the DC Trans Coalition found that 54% of survey respondents reported having some sort of physical problem from trying to avoid using public restrooms, such as dehydration, kidney infections, and urinary tract infections.
Another survey by Canadian human rights group Egale found that more than half of trans students feel unsafe in physical education change rooms and school washrooms.
Over the past few years, anti-trans legislation, like North Carolina’s H.B 2 and the Oklahoma Senate Bill 1014, has been introduced in the United States to prevent trans individuals from using public washrooms that correspond with their gender identity.
Canada has been facing a similar political debate with Bill C-279, which seeks to include gender identity in the Canadian Human Rights Act as a prohibited ground of discrimination, among other amendments.
In 2013, the legislation was targeted by opponents as a ‘bathroom bill,’ and arguments were made by some that the bill would make it easier for predators to prey on children in public restrooms.
Conservatives attempted to amend the bill, limiting which public washrooms could be used by trans and non-gender conforming individuals.
The Washroom Inclusivity Project hopes to continue their collaboration with students to make StFX a more accessible community for all individuals. Ideally, the long-term objective is to see accessible, gender-neutral facilities in every building on campus.
X-Pride’s executive team is eager to make progress on the project this year, working with the data that was compiled during last year’s efforts.
“We’re still largely in the process of trying to gather information from the individuals who started the project,” said X-Pride Vice-President Sloane Ryan. “As the leaders have mostly graduated and moved on.”
Until further notice, any and all future events pertaining to this initiative will be advertised in advance via poster campaigns and on the X-Pride 2016-17 Facebook page.
Check future issues of The Xaverian Weekly for further updates on the project.