Stony Brook University is steps ahead of the nation on its public restroom policies.
Last week, U.S. President Barack Obama required all public schools to provide restroom facilities for all students, including those who identify as transgender. But at Stony Brook, plans are already in place to accommodate students of any identification, making it the first school in the SUNY system to offer up all-gender restrooms and changing rooms.
Timothy Ecklund, dean of students at SBU, said the university introduced a draft diversity plan in December in an attempt to attack persistent issues of inequality affecting society as a whole. In an interview, he said the university’s plan to address gender and inequality, specifically pertaining to the transgender community, included requiring all new and renovated buildings on campus to have all-gender restrooms included in construction plans and installing at least one all-gender restroom in each existing campus building.
“As long as we have transgender people at our university, our perspective is they’re a member of our community and we need to support them,” he said.
Ecklund said Stony Brook University has a total of 24 all-gender restrooms, including three recently reassigned restrooms in its Student Activities Center building, which have multi-stall facilities.
“When we changed our restrooms to all-gender in the Student Activities Center, the feedback from our students was overwhelmingly supportive and positive,” he said. “I spend a lot of time on campus and I see students in and out of the restrooms there without any hesitation. It’s not an issue, for our students, at least.”
As for the students’ perspective, sophomore Sydney Gaglio, president of the campus’ Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender Alliance, said the all-gender restroom discussion was long overdue, as it has always been a primary concern of her group.
“We are of course super excited about the all-gender restrooms on campus and it is definitely a point of pride on our campus,” she said in an interview. “As students, there has been some concern mentioned in that when it comes to social media sites like Yik Yak, where things are anonymous, commentary on the all-gender restroom policy on campus can get extremely transphobic, hurtful and invalidating. So there is concern for student health because of social stigma but, all in all, the conversation from members of LGBTA centers on excitement and validation.”
The issue has become a hot topic across the North Shore and greater United States. Last month, Port Jefferson school board members approved a policy for how district officials should interact with and accommodate transgender students, including on the way those students are referenced in school records and what bathroom and locker room facilities they can use. Other school districts on the North Shore have also tried to make rules for transgender students in recent years, but faced backlash from the community.
“Gender-specific restrooms still exist and if you feel more comfortable in those spaces, then that is okay,” Gaglio said. “But things like going to the restroom are personal things; let people do their business in peace and you do yours in peace and everyone will be happy. Allow people to occupy the space in which they feel comfortable in.”
But the university’s support for all of its students does not stop at the label on a bathroom door, the dean said.
Ecklund said the university is home to a number of transgender students, and the school is taking strides to accommodate them and be sensitive to their preferences.
“We are working now as a university at providing the opportunity for our transgender students to change their names,” he said. “We’re trying to make sure the places at which their names are present — especially on a daily basis — they’re able to use the name they prefer or the name that they have taken.”