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College Focuses on Gender-Neutral Restrooms During House Renewal

An Adams House bathroom features an “All Gender Restroom” sign.
An Adams House bathroom features an “All Gender Restroom” sign. By Y. Kit Wu
By Jalin P. Cunningham, Crimson Staff Writer

All 12 of the College’s residential Houses will include gender-neutral bathrooms once the more than $1 billion ongoing House renewal project is complete.

Going forward, each of the renovated Houses will aim to have a gender-neutral bathroom and shower on each floor, according to Assistant Dean of Student Life for Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion Emelyn A. dela Peña. Previously renewed Houses Quincy, Leverett, and Dunster already include gender-neutral bathrooms.

In a statement to College students, dela Peña wrote the construction of gender-neutral bathrooms—what she termed “Gender inclusive” restrooms—is “part of our responsibility to create a welcoming environment.” She added that the creation of gender-neutral bathrooms will now be a part of all major renovation projects College-wide.

Adams House already includes a gender neutral restroom.
Adams House already includes a gender neutral restroom. By Y. Kit Wu

Further, she said the gender-neutral bathrooms will benefit “anyone who is uncomfortable accessing a gender-specific bathroom,” including parents accompanying young children of a different gender, or people with disabilities who require an attendant of a different gender.

The statement, released last week, garnered praise from leaders of Harvard’s Queer Students and Allies, whom dela Peña said personally thanked her.

In an official statement responding to the announcement, QSA wrote its members were “heartened” by College administrators’ commitment to issues of gender inclusion, especially in the wake of recent events at Harvard and nationwide.

Earlier this semester, a broken sign of a gender-neutral bathroom in Eliot House elicited concern, with some students characterizing the destruction an instance of vandalism “transphobia.” Soon after, over a dozen Undergraduate Council representatives issued a joint statement in support of the College’s BGLTQ population, and Eliot House staff held a town hall to discuss the event.

Dela Peña said in an interview after the release of the statement that she considers a commitment to gender inclusivity “just the right thing to do.”

“There’s a lot of stuff going on around the country around gender neutral restrooms,” she said. “We wanted to let our LGBT community know that this is on our radar.”

Still, the response from QSA argued the University could do more in terms of BGLTQ inclusion. In their statement, QSA said that Harvard would benefit from increased resources and programming for BGLTQ students, sensitivity trainings for College staff, and a more swift response to “other incidents of transphobia on campus.”

“QSA hopes to work with the administration as it continues to address issues of exclusion and unfairness,” the statement said.

The renovation of Winthrop House, next on tap for House renewal, will take place over the course of the 2016-2017 academic year, starting this summer. Harvard will next renovate Lowell House beginning in the summer of 2017.

—Staff writer Jalin P. Cunningham can be reached at jalin.cunningham@thecrimson.com. Follow her on Twitter @JalinCunningham.

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