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UC Student Life Committee Focuses on Increasing Accessibility

UPDATED: March 22, 2016, at 12:01 a.m.

When the Undergraduate Council convened for its first meeting of the year in January, Student Life Committee Chair Berkeley Brown ’18 laid out one of her primary objectives: increasing campus accessibility.

“We have some really big projects this semester,” Brown said during the meeting. “Number one is making campus more accessible, making resources for people with disabilities more known, [and] making strides for gender-neutral bathrooms on campus.”

Since that meeting, the UC’s Student Life Committee has focused on increasing accessibility in a variety of areas, from gender-neutral bathrooms to printing.

Eliot House All-Gender Bathroom Defaced
Earlier this month, Eliot House residents discovered the sign on the gender-neutral bathroom near their dining hall had been taken down, and someone taped up a colored version of the original sign by the end of the day.

Although the College has added some gender-neutral restrooms in recent years, including several in Adams House last September, several students said they feel that progress is inadequate, according to Queer Students and Allies Co-Chair Ted G. Waechter ’18.

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“Generally, Harvard is a really tough place for queer and trans students,” Waechter said. “There is an extremely insufficient number of gender-neutral restrooms. Although some of the Houses have started adding gender-neutral restrooms, there still really aren’t enough in residential areas.”

“There’s no reason why a single stall bathroom shouldn’t be a gender-neutral bathroom,” Waechter, a Crimson Editorial writer, added.

In addition to expanding access to gender-neutral restrooms during House renovations, Waechter said the College should also more actively publicize the locations of such restrooms. Brown said the UC “found that there’s no real database anywhere that says where gender-neutral bathrooms are.”

According to Brown, the Student Life Committee is working on gathering information about gender-neutral bathrooms on campus, with the eventual objective of making the information more publicly accessible to students.

“Our goal is to have a list, or maybe someday an integrated map with the Harvard map that says ‘These are where the gender-neutral bathrooms are,’” Brown said.

Student Life Committee member Scott Xiao ’19 also suggested that improving signage on and near gender-neutral bathrooms could help improve student awareness.

Although the UC has pushed for increased access to gender-neutral restrooms since the beginning of the semester, Xiao said the recent destruction of a gender-neutral bathroom sign in Eliot House—an act which Eliot House Faculty Dean Gail O’Keefe called “vandalism”—proved particularly concerning.

In addition to working on gender-neutral bathrooms, the Student Life Committee is also planning other projects to improve accessibility on campus. In particular, the committee is working on an initiative to make student organization leaders more aware of which rooms are accessible.

“If you have common rooms, some of them are accessible, some of them aren’t,” Xiao said. “When you have student leaders planning events, they need to know if a common room is accessible or not to take that into account.”

According to Brown, the committee is coordinating with building administrators and the Harvard College Disability Alliance to identify which rooms are accessible. Eventually, her plan is to put information about the accessible rooms on RoomBook, the online system through which student organizations can reserve rooms for meetings.

“Our goal is to make sure that when people are planning events [or] booking rooms, that this is at the forefront of their minds,” Brown said.

“Everybody wants meetings or events to be as accessible as possible,” Xiao said. “The main issue right now is that it’s hard to find that information.”

Xiao, who is also a member of the Freshman Class Committee, pointed to the six new printers in freshmen dorm buildings and a laundry room that will be constructed in Matthews this summer as instances where the UC has succeeded at improving accessibility.

The Student Life Committee is also considering various other accessibility-related projects, including plans to improve the affordability of printing and laundry services on campus, according to Xiao.

The UC cancelled its regularly scheduled meeting this week; Brown said she will update the entire Council on her committee’s projects on Sunday.

–Staff writer Brian P. Yu can be reached at brian.yu@thecrimson.com. Follow him on Twitter @brianyu28.

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