It is not often that bathroom signs make an impact in our everyday lives, including that of the gender neutral bathroom in the basement of Park Region hall, but three-year-olds have a different perspective than most college students.
“My son,” said Mikal Kenfield, director of Residence Life, “[said] he had to go to the bathroom … and we walked by the bathroom and he goes, ‘This bathroom is for everyone!’ And I was like, ‘Yes, this bathroom is for everyone.’”
Next fall, this same inclusiveness will be extended to the residents of Park Region’s second floor which is becoming Concordia’s first non-binary floor. The official name of the floor is going to be, at least for next year, the Sexuality and Gender Inclusion floor, said Kenfield.
As the name suggests, the floor will not only be a place to live, but also a community for students who may be transitioning or who may not identify on the gender spectrum. It will also be a home for students that identify with the LGBT+ community. According to Kenfield, the floor may also be opened up to students who wish to explore and learn more about gender and sexuality through living on the floor.
The idea for the floor was initially proposed by Cole Cymbaluk, a current student and the women’s and gender studies intern, who was also the former events coordinator for SAGA.
“I guess it was just something I saw a need for,” Cymbaluk said. “There was a student I knew last year who ended up leaving Concordia. [They] did a spoken-word poem about how they felt so uncomfortable about living in Park Region because it was an all-girl dorm, and they did not identify along the binary. So I just thought, ‘What can I do to help solve this issue on Concordia’s campus?’”
Because of Cymbaluk’s former position in SAGA, he attended the May leadership internship where he sought out how he could make a non-binary, gender and sexuality inclusive floor something that would happen on campus.
“I like to think of Concordia as a very inclusive place, but there is still a lot we can do, and I think that this is one more step that Concordia can do to make it inviting for people of all different backgrounds and natures,” Cymbaluk said. “And I would really like to see Concordia continue in this direction.”
Cymbaluk’s efforts put him in contact with Kenfield, who said that Residence Life, too, had been considering better ways of housing students that did not identify with the gender binary. Up until this point, Residence Life has taken more of a retroactive approach, waiting until a student expressed a need before trying to figure out where would be the best spot for them housing-wise.
According to Kenfield, the process of creating the floor was really set in motion when Cymbaluk broached the idea to those in Residence Life, reminding them that it is important. Kenfield agreed instantly with the idea.
“I just sort of raised my hand and said, ‘Yes, let’s do it. Here is a floor,’ and then that sort of fast tracked everything in terms of there was no need to write a proposal, there was no need to convince anybody, because when the director of Residence Life says, ‘Sure,’ then that kind of cuts through a lot of the red tape,” Kenfield said.
Park Region was identified as the best option for a floor as it has both regular bathrooms along with a singular one. The second floor, which is on the main floor of the building, is also easily accessible because there are no stairs to go up or down, said Jonathan Mergens, Livedalen hall director who has been part of the committee overseeing the creation of the floor.
The committee included Cymbaluk, Mergens, Michelle McNamara, Hallett hall director, Samuel Olson, SGA facilities commissioner, and Mallary Allen, sociology faculty.
“We wanted to be able to create something for the college that is going to make an impact. And so we were really interested in [creating the floor],” McNamara said. “Everyone that is involved with the committee is super interested and passionate about it.”
McNamara has been working closely with Mergens, who is a former Cobber. After graduation, he moved to the Twin Cities and worked at another institution there at a school that was very opposite the spectrum from Concordia in many ways, according to Mergens.
“Almost their entire campus was all gender and a lot of the bathrooms that were a part of the building that I oversaw there were all gender. So it was something that I saw lacking at Concordia,” Mergens said. “I had a personal interest having done a lot of LGBTQIA training and education and workshops while I was down in the Twin Cities and wanting to bring some of that back to try to push Concordia further.”
The committee has also been working with members of SAGA to ensure that they are creating a floor that will be valuable to students. The SAGA focus group raised many important questions: What is the name of the floor going to be? How will an RA be chosen? What will the application process look like? What impact will it have?
The current name for the floor, the Sexuality and Gender Inclusion floor, is only a temporary name, according to Kenfield. The residents who live on the floor next year will get to rename it to whatever they feel fits them best.
“That’s the really exciting part, kind of the unknown, because the students who live there next year will really have the opportunity to set the tone for what the floor looks like,” Kenfield said.
Another point that was agreed upon between the SAGA focus group and the committee is that the residents living on the floor would then select the next year’s community members by reviewing the applications. This would allow the new residents to carry on the values that the community had established as a floor.
The RA will be chosen from returning staff members who express interest in living on the floor, according to Michelle McNamara, Hallett hall director, who has been working closely with Mergens on the project.
From there, an RA will be chosen based upon answers provided in the application — the same application that students wishing to live on the floor need to fill out. The goal is to best provide residents with someone who understands the community, who is knowledgeable about issues and who can act as an ally.
“[We wanted to make] sure that the RA is going to be an inclusive member of that floor and so we wanted them to come into that space already having a good understanding of some of the issues that individuals that may identify outside the gender binary or who don’t identify as straight, that they are already up to speed on that,” Mergens said.
The SAGA focus group also made suggestions to provide appropriate training, not just for the RA of the floor specifically, but for RAs across the campus. However, the RA of the floor may receive extra training or have to participate in the safe space training, said Mergens.
Alexandra Traynor, current co-RA of floor two of Park Region is one such returning staff member. Traynor is minoring in women’s and gender studies, and is very interested in living on the floor.
“Social justice issues pertaining to sexual identity and gender identity are very close to my heart,” Traynor said. “I think that having a floor that is dedicated to inclusivity for gender and sexuality is really important for a multitude of reasons.”
Traynor came from a small town, so when she arrived on campus, she was pleasantly surprised by the community that the campus has and how open people here are. Traynor said this floor is proof of that atmosphere.
“When you are getting to college age, a lot of people are figuring out those integral parts of their identity … so I think it is important to have an environment where students can learn more about themselves and also each other,” Traynor said. “I can only see it having a positive impact and only encouraging that openness even further and to develop a community that is willing to talk about these sometimes very private issues.”
Like the RA position, the floor will be open to returning students, although a few rooms will be set aside for incoming students, according to Kenfield. The application, which is already live, is anonymous in that students put in only their student ID number.
“[It is important to reserve] a couple rooms for incoming students, particularly if we have students who are transgender or who are not on the binary, because I think that coming to college is anxiety-provoking enough,” Kenfield said. “I can’t imagine if you were also concerned with ‘What is my roommate going to think of me if they find out that I’m — insert adjective here?’”
From there, based upon their answers to the questions provided, the applications will be reviewed by professional staff.
Residence Life is giving the floor a soft opening of sorts in that they have been slowly letting more and more people know about it, beginning with members of SAGA and branching out into women’s and gender studies classes, along with posting it on Concordia’s facebook and twitter page.
“We just didn’t want it to be too big too fast,” Kenfield said. “[Especially since] we figured out that there is only around fifteen rooms … so we didn’t want to broadcast it from the top of the mountain.”
Residents who identify as the same gender, regardless of their biological sex, will be able to live with one another so long as both people request the other. People will also be able to live on the floor in a double room on their own and not be charged extra.
Residence Life has also reached out to admissions so that representatives can speak to prospective students about interest in living on the floor, which Mergens believes will be beneficial to them.
“I think it brings a lot of value to prospective students looking into Concordia in knowing that there is going to be a space for them if they are transitioning or have transitioned or identify outside of the binary, that there is an option for them here and that they don’t have to try to figure it out on their own,” Mergens said.
So far though, among the people who already know about the floor, there is quite a bit of interest, according to Mergens.
“I think that there are people who are excited about, but who aren’t applying because they don’t want away a space from someone else,” Mergens said. “Also, in addition to SAGA, I see this community as being a great resource for the campus as far as providing training and just general awareness of the fact that we value this on our campus or that we expect this on our campus.”
The floor will provide many benefits. For those who choose to live there, it may be the first time that they feel like the floor is really where they should be living and that the community is a place they feel they belong, said Kenfield.
“And then I think that the campus as a whole will become educated,” Kenfield said. “I think a lot of those conversations can start to happen around gender and sexuallity and what it looks like to be inclusive.”
Ultimately, though, it will be up to the residents of the floor to decide what kind of community they want to build and what kind of things they want to participate in, whether that would be fun activities or educational components, according to McNamara and Mergens.
“I really think that this community will speak volumes to what we believe here as an institution and what we value here,” Mergens said. “Concordia is really making an effort and doing a lot to give students that best experience that they can have here.”
The college experience can continue to be improved so long as students and faculty are willing to work together. According to Cymbaluk, initiatives such as this one are not as hard as people might think.
“All you have to do is talk to the right people,” Cymbaluk said.
If students have something they want to change, there are avenues available on campus and administration is generally open to hearing ideas and having students pursue them, said Cymbaluk.
“We are taking steps, and they are good steps,” Cymbaluk said. “It’s just that we have to make sure that they keep happening and that we don’t get complacent and think that this is good enough or that we’ve done enough, there’s nothing else to change, because there is always something more to be done.”
For those looking to apply to the Sexuality and Gender Inclusion floor, follow this address: http://concordiacollege.co1.qualtrics.com/jfe/form/SV_4MfB4EOWJNSXQgd
Any questions or comments about the floor can be directed toward the Residence Life staff.