Over Winter Break, the College converted the women’s bathroom on the second floor of the David Saul Smith Union into a gender neutral restroom. The renovations included installing new paneling to prevent anyone from seeing any part of the person in any of the stalls. All cracks in the stalls were covered up. The bathroom is designed to be inclusive for students who identify as transgender or gender non-binary. 

Discussions for the bathroom started last year, according to Director of Student Activities Nate Hintze. 

“For me it started last year when [the Latin American Student Association] brought trans activist Bamby Salcedo. In a conversation with her I asked ‘What can I do to support our trans students?’” Hintze said.

Salcedo suggested the College create gender-neutral bathrooms. 

Hintze started working with Katy Longley, former treasurer of the College, Director of the David Saul Smith Union Allen Delong and Director of the Center for Gender and Sexual Diversity Kate Stern to create a multi-stall gender-neutral bathroom on the second floor of the Union in addition to the single stall gender inclusive bathroom on the first floor. 

After speaking with Facilities, Hintze said the process was very quick. The women’s room was converted because the paneling was already in place and Facilities only needed to create new panels and to cover all the cracks in the doors. Elongated panels and bristles covering the cracks in doors make it impossible to identify the gender of an individual in a stall. 

“The concern really is privacy so the thoughtfulness really went into reconstructing the panels and doors,” Stern said. 

“We covered every crack in the door so you physically cannot see who is in the bathroom next to you unless they’re washing their hands next to you,” Hintze said. 

Several students voiced their support for the creation of the bathroom. 

Justin Weathers ’18 said that he has no problem with the bathroom. Because its use is optional, he doesn’t see it affecting his everyday life.

“It doesn’t bother me. I assume they’re all stalls so no one is paying attention to you,” he said. “It’s opt-in. If you don’t want to use the gender-neutral bathroom you don’t have to use it.”

A women’s bathroom is still present on the first floor of the union by the C-store. 

Weathers said that although he does not know many people who may have expressed the need for such a bathroom, he is glad there is a space for those who desire it.

“I’m happy that those people have a bathroom that makes them feel comfortable.”

Caroline Watt ’18, who has used the bathroom, says she likes it. 

“I kind of like it. For the fact that the lines will be less long—less of a wait.”

However, some students expressed concern about the fact that only the women’s bathroom has been converted. 

Hannah Karlan ’19 says that she fears only women will use the space because it is right next to a men’s room.  

“I’ve been in there a few times and I only noticed girls in there,” said Karlan. 

Hintze says the College does plan to convert the men’s bathroom as well. 

“Ideally, we would do the men’s bathroom at some point as well just so they were both gender-neutral so we wouldn’t have a men’s bathroom and a gender-neutral bathroom,” he said. “We’re figuring out how to work through the urinals. We wanted to do one and do it perfectly and then figure out how we can do that with the other bathroom as well.”

Stern and Hintze both said that the move was made to help trans and nonbinary individuals at Bowdoin.

“Many of our students who are either transgender or gender-nonbinary don’t go to the bathroom unless they’re in their room,” said Stern. 

She said that trans students and gender-nonbinary students might feel more comfortable not having to decide which bathroom to use. 

“It’s really making sure that our small trans population feels really comfortable on this campus,” Hintze said. 

Stern said that there is a desire by those in the trans and gender non-binary community for more inclusive spaces, although she is unsure what the College’s next steps will be.