The Cooper Union, a small but prestigious art and engineering university in New York City, has taken the bold step of making every single bathroom on campus gender-neutral.
Instead of being classified as “men’s,” “women’s,” or single-occupancy restrooms, all facilities at the Cooper Union will carry descriptive signs describing exactly what lies within. Former men’s rooms, for instance, are now described as “urinals and stalls,” while former women’s rooms now carry the label “stalls only.” Regardless of their type, all bathrooms will be open to whomever wants to use them. According to Inside Higher Education, Cooper Union appears to be the first college in the country to entirely de-gender all of its bathroom facilities.
President Bill Mea announced the change in a recent email to the entire campus, and made the claim that having men and women mingle together in bathrooms will improve safety on campus by fixing the “problem of gendered spaces.” He also argued that the school had a moral obligation to make things easier for transgender students and staff. (RELATED: New York Gov. Bans Some Travel To North Carolina Over Bathroom Law)
“We, who are in positions of power, have the obligation to not only stand with those without power, but to stand in front of them, clearing a path for them to walk,” Mea said. “I cannot change the outside world and how it treats transgender and gender non-conforming people, but I can change the Cooper Union environment to help everyone feel safe when they are inside our buildings.”
The shift is a victory for transgender advocates at Cooper Union, who engaged in a protest effort in 2015 where they took down the signs on bathrooms and replaced them with various new labels such as “Degendered.” As an ad-hoc experiment, Mea decided not to restore the original signs, and he said the experiment had been a success.
“From what I have observed, most of us just continued using the facilities most familiar to us and visitors figured things fairly quickly,” he said.
Unlike other schools, Cooper Union can take this step without having to navigate the tricky matter of locker rooms, as the school doesn’t have any.
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