Last week, the College approved new gender inclusive design standards to guide future constructions and renovations in an attempt to make bathrooms and locker rooms more gender inclusive. These efforts aim to provide a safe environment for community members whose identities are other than cisgender (identifying as the gender assigned at birth).

The standards require that future building projects include lockable, single stall restrooms on the main floor during construction and applicable renovations. These restrooms will not be designated to a single gender but instead will be accessible to students of all genders. These rooms will be labeled as “restroom” rather than “men” or “women.” Signage is able to be further altered on an ad hoc basis. 

Also included in the guidelines is an expectation that all facilities with locker rooms or showers provide private changing rooms and showers.

These standards are designed to provide students identifying as transgender (not identifying with gender assigned at birth) or nonbinary (a category that refers to gender identities that are not exclusively masculine or feminine) who might not feel comfortable in men’s or women’s restrooms.

“Personally, they’re important because being able to access non-gendered spaces is very important to making me feel comfortable, to making me feel like I’m not compromising my identity by entering a gendered bathroom,” said Paul Cheng ’17. “Every time I do that, there’s this sense that I’m projecting this idea that I’m not really agender. I’m still basically a man or something. It feels like the message that I’m sending.”

In the past, the College has had trouble providing for non-cisgendered students due to the small scale of the student body.

“It’s hard, from scale, because we’re a smaller school,” said Kate Stern, director of the Center for Sexual and Gender Diversity. “A lot of the bigger universities I’ve seen, if you picture where there’s the men’s and women’s locker rooms, there might be another one that’s called the ‘family dressing room,’ or ‘family room,’ that someone could take their children in with them or someone could use as gender inclusive. 

“But again, it’s the scale. [When] we think about a mammoth university with 50,000 people and their giant sports complex, it looks like a different thing,” Stern added. 

As part of forming the standards, Stern traveled to several other colleges and universities to examine their versions of these policies. 

After Stern researched other schools’ regulations, Director of Capital Projects Don Borkowski drafted the standards which circulated through the administration before receiving approval from President Clayton Rose and Dean of Student Affairs Tim Foster. 

“We said ‘Yeah, it’s the right thing to do,’ and so this is the Bowdoin version of it,” said Katy Longley, senior vice president for finance and administration and treasurer. 

These standards are part of a larger movement within the administration towards a more gender-inclusive campus. Facilities has already implemented 40 gender-neutral bathrooms across campus. Other recent projects include the change this year in first year bricks, where the previously gender-segregated showers are now unisex.

“We’ve been moving in this direction anyway, but this is just to put it in writing that this will be the standard practice, as opposed to what we’ve been doing, to make it more formalized,” said Stern.

John Branch and Nicholas Mitch contributed to this report.