In the most populated building on campus, the Knutson Campus Center, students of all kinds go to hang out, eat, study and attend events held in the building. A staple on Concordia Campus, it is simply missing something that could really mean a lot for students who identify as non-binary. Knutson is missing a Gender-Neutral bathroom.
Elijah Amelse (he/him/they/them) is the assistant director of student engagement; this involves work with leadership on campus, such as he advises the diversity, equity and inclusion commission, also known as DEIC. Amelse is also a part of PRIDE network on campus, which is a collective of students, faculty and staff that advocate and support the LGBTQ community. Bathrooms were already in the back of Amelse’s head, which is why last summer he did bathroom research on campus to see what kind of bathrooms were available.
“That really got me thinking that if I’m going to advocate for bathrooms for myself, and for folks with disabilities, I should first know what bathrooms are available. This led me to taking a clipboard around on campus, and saying ‘hello, is there a bathroom in this building? Do you mind putting me where it is?’” said Amelse.
Eventually through that research Amelse found that there are no gender-neutral bathrooms in Knutson.
“We have eight bathrooms in this building, and none of them are gender neutral, or agender, or all gender, they’re all male or female bathrooms,” said Amelse.
The closest bathroom to Knutson that is gender-neutral is the one in Academy Hall. Amelse is in conversation with facilities about having one of the bathrooms in Knutson to be changed to a gender-neutral one; however, it is not as easy as just slapping a new sign on a bathroom door—there are regulations that need to be followed.
“Basically, legally, you can’t have a certain amount of gap [between stall doors] if you’re gonna have a mixed gendered space. That’s why we can’t just change the signs,” said Amelse.
This was not the only thing that needs to be considered for gender-neutral bathrooms to be possible; when investigated, the number of stalls in the bathrooms is also a concern.
Dallas Fossum, the director of facilities and management said, “The state of Minnesota requires a certain number of fixtures for the capacity in the building. On the main floor, there are large gendered bathrooms with multiple stalls. So that was really what they are, and we can’t change them. The only place that we have really got a smaller bathroom is on the lower level down by the maize.”
The bathrooms by the Maize are two-stall bathrooms and would need to be fixed into one stall. Fossum considered changing the locks on the bathroom doors or blocking off one of the stalls and making it into a single, but this would require some sort of waiver by the city to allow the bathroom to lose a fixture.
For this reason, the only other option would be to renovate one of the bathrooms in Knutson, but this would be an expensive situation.
“Bathrooms are one of the most expensive things that you can build because of the plumbing that goes into them. It is just a very, very expensive endeavor,” said Fossum.
As conversations continue to happen, one of the next steps to even consider renovation would be submitting paperwork to get approval from the school. Amelse plans to submit paperwork this year to have one gender-neutral bathroom in Knutson for those who identify themselves as non-binary.
Senior Hannah Knutson (she/they) said that having the option of gender-neutral bathrooms makes them feel validated.
“My freshman and sophomore years, I was in Park Region, which has awesome gender-neutral bathrooms, very accessible, and that was my first experience of having them accessible in any format. It made me feel more comfortable than being in the gendered bathrooms,” said Hannah.
Accessibility is important to Hannah because they struggled with finding bathrooms whenever they were going out in public. Not having the option of gender-neutral bathrooms tends to have a negative effect on their mental health.
“Not having the opportunity to choose a gender-neutral bathroom, when going out in public in, to shops and stores or, to Knutson, it does affect my mental health and makes me conscious of every time I have to choose the women’s restroom,” said Hannah.
Making students who identify as non-binary as comfortable as possible on campus is a goal for Amelse and having gender-neutral bathrooms is one step toward that direction.
“We need more accessible bathrooms. We need all-gender bathrooms; we just need more places for people to pee comfortably. That is our mission statement. To make it comfortable, make it easy to find,” said Amelse.
For Hannah, she would be happy if she did not have to think about where to pee on campus.
“I would be happy if I never had to think too hard about where I was peeing, but to students who have not had to think about that before. I would ask that they realize that there are those of us who do have to think about it daily,” said Hannah.
Regarding the students who would be uncomfortable with the idea of gender-neutral bathrooms in Knutson, Amelse said that only one of the bathrooms would be turned into a gender-neutral bathroom. This means that gendered bathrooms will still be a viable option. In all the three years that Amelse was a hall director in dorms that have the option of gender-neutral bathrooms, there has not been a reported issue.
If you would like to know where the gender-neutral bathrooms are on campus, you can find more information on the Concordia website under the PRIDE network tab or on the inclusive community page under the physical-wellbeing tab.