The Cambridge City Council has recently passed a unanimous resolution requesting that the City Manager draw up an ordinance on gender-neutral bathrooms. This decision was made in response to concerns from the LGBT community about harassment and accessibility. Although the Cambridge City Council was right to take such steps, we caution the University, as it moves along with the House Renewal project, to think twice before applying that ordinance here at Harvard. In fact, as the Houses are renovated in the coming years, the installation of gender-neutral bathrooms is something the University should avoid, as the risk of sexual assault is simply too high.
Obviously, the safety and comfort of transgender, intersex, and non-gender-identified students should be a priority of the utmost importance at Harvard, and we understand that gender-neutral bathrooms would add to that comfort. Because of the uncomfortable situations that naturally arise when one is forced to choose which gender-specific bathroom to enter, we respect the need for these bathrooms in the city of Cambridge.
However, there are very few transgender, intersex, and non-gender identified students at Harvard, and, if desired, they can already be housed in rooms with private en-suite bathrooms where sexual harassment or discomfort would not be an issue. Even though installing gender-neutral bathrooms at Harvard would have but a small impact on the lives of most students, the potential for increased sexual harassment is enough justification to preclude their presence en masse, and we urge the University to be sensitive to these concerns.
Additionally, a major argument for gender-neutral bathrooms is that they make it easier for parents to escort their children to the bathroom or for nurses to escort elderly patients of the opposite gender. It seems that these are considerations that hardly apply to Harvard students. With no rational need, therefore, it seems that installing these bathrooms would simply be a symbolic decision and not a practical one.
At Harvard, however, gender-neutral bathrooms would most likely create more issues than solve them. The concern of sexual assault and sexual harassment in gender-neutral bathrooms has been a past problem on college campuses considering their installation. At Brown, The Brown Spectator ran an article on gender-neutral bathrooms that stressed the worry that women would feel uncomfortable with their installation and need a “safe space” where they do not feel vulnerable to assault. We echo those concerns wholeheartedly.
Indeed, the case for gender-neutral bathrooms is by no means an open-and-shut case. The president of the Massachusetts Family Institute, Kris Mineau, agrees that gender-neutral bathrooms may do more harm than good and could possibly sacrifice the privacy, modesty, and safety of all citizens.
We have to agree with these statements. Although we live in a progressive time on a progressive campus, the issue of sexual assault and sexual harassment is still very real and should be guarded against at all costs. Gender-neutral bathrooms could provide opportunities for verbal harassment and even unwanted attention that perhaps could be avoided in gender-specific bathrooms. We understand that assault and harassment can occur anywhere; we simply believe that gender-neutral bathrooms would make it easier.
Although a great step for Cambridge, gender-neutral bathrooms would not make a real difference to student life here at Harvard. The Harvard Housing Project should not focus on their installment and rather focus on their projected goals of better privacy, electricity, plumbing, and soundproofing. These types of improvements will provide no ideological satisfaction but will better meet the needs of this community.