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Let’s add gender-neutral bathrooms without taking away existing single-sex bathrooms

<h6>Photo Courtesy of <a href="https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?title=User:Sarahmirk&amp;action=edit&amp;redlink=1" title="User:Sarahmirk (page does not exist)">sarahmirk</a></h6>
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In the Undergraduate Student Government’s (USG) 2022 winter elections, undergraduate students had the opportunity to vote on a referendum put forth by Uma Fox ’26. The senate-initiated referendum asked, “Shall the undergraduates call on the Office of the Provost to, in a timely manner, establish a commission to investigate and provide recommendations on how the University may convert the majority of residential campus restrooms to be gender-neutral?” The referendum passed with 58 percent of the vote.

“By pushing this resolution forward, we are able to say, as a Princeton community, that we’re both supportive of transgender and gender nonconforming students, and that we’re also willing to take action to make sure that all members of our community feel safe,” Fox said

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The University should certainly work to create a community and a campus where safety and well-being are prioritized. Although gender neutral restrooms increase accessibility for transgender and gender non-conforming students, there are others on campus who would feel uncomfortable with the prospect of sharing a bathroom with members of the opposite sex. We live in a campus community with diverse viewpoints and backgrounds, and that is what makes Princeton and our college experience special. In order to protect all members of the community, the University must take into account the students who are fearful of losing a private space in restrooms and of seeing and being seen in uncomfortable or unsafe situations.

Currently, the residential restrooms in New College West and Yeh dorms, which the referendum cites as a model, contain multiple showers and toilet stalls with full, floor-to-ceiling walls. Residents walk through a common restroom space to enter said stalls. The referendum does not specify how the majority of residential restrooms would be converted to this model, whether they will be single-stall restrooms, or what would be done in older, more crowded restroom spaces in Rockefeller and Mathey Colleges. Ultimately, the referendum is vague in its goals, causing anxiety for many students, like myself. 

As a female student, knowing that there are male students in a place that I've always considered a safe haven scares me. I would not feel comfortable or safe about the possibility of being less than fully dressed in their presence, on my way to take a shower, for example. Moreover, there is a level of emotional safety and solidarity in being in a common bathroom with other female students that I would not want to lose.

It is essential that the referendum-initiated commission operates with specificity and transparency. In making their considerations, the commission must take into account the voices and concerns of the 27 percent of students who voted “No” and the 15 percent who abstained from the referendum just as much as those who voted “Yes.” 

Referring to a situation where a majority of residential restrooms would be gender neutral, Brennan McClelland ’25 told me, “I would not have chosen to come here if this was the case when I was deciding on Princeton.” 

Along these same lines, Aimee Hannoush ’23 told me, “I don't understand why the referendum doesn’t advocate for simply adding gender-neutral bathrooms to each floor. It’s understandable that those who do not feel comfortable using either female or male bathrooms should not have to do so. However, the majority of students do not identify as gender non-conforming or transgender. Consideration should be made for these students’ comfort and safety concerns as well.”

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Adding more gender neutral restrooms is a reasonable solution. This would allow transgender and gender non-conforming students to have access to restrooms that they feel comfortable using without reducing access to those who feel uncomfortable in gender neutral restroom facilities. The University has the resources to make this happen. Rather than converting most existing single-sex restrooms to gender neutral ones and jeopardizing the safety and comfort of male and female students, I urge the commission to consider options that truly fulfill the goal of making “all members of our community feel safe.” 

Julianna Lee is a sophomore and prospective politics concentrator from Demarest, N.J. She can be reached by email at yl34@princeton.edu.

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