The following piece, written by the editorial editors, reflects the majority opinion of the editorial board.
Earlier this month, Miami relabeled four private restrooms in Armstrong as all-gender.
The previous labels on the restrooms, designating them for “family” use, did not encourage or discourage use by any gender. However, by clearly marking these rooms as gender neutral, Miami is sending a stronger message in support of the transgender community and the gender neutrality movement.
According to the American Psychological Association, sex refers to a person’s biological makeup (ie: private parts). Gender refers to “the attitudes, feelings and behaviors that a culture associates with a biological sex,” and gender identity refers to one’s sense of self as male, female, or transgender.
Replacing placards on restrooms might seem like a small, ineffectual change, but it symbolizes a shift in attitude. This made us wonder what a gender-neutral university would look like, and if this is even a possibility.
The Office of Residence Life already makes efforts to be inclusive. Resident Assistants (RAs) are taught to ask residents their preferred gender pronouns upon meeting, to avoid future confusion or discomfort.
This helps RAs achieve one of their main goals — to establish a supportive relationship with their residents. By asking about this important aspect of an individual’s identity, RAs show they value and care for those who live in their halls.
But what about those of us who aren’t RAs and didn’t receive this training, or who don’t live in dorms anymore? How can we interact with peers in a way that shows awareness of and consideration for diversity?
The idea of asking questions about gender identity might be intimidating, or sound like it would lead to uncomfortable conversations. However, it can help us avoid awkward — and offensive — mistakes, like calling someone by the wrong pronoun.
Hopefully, one day this type of education will be implemented earlier. Instead of dividing pre-school children into groups of boys and girls, thus instilling gender norms, maybe we will treat everyone the same.
As our society transitions — hopefully to a more accepting one — we will all need to be a little more understanding. Yes, everyone should make an effort to ask one another about preferred gender pronouns. On the other hand, failure to do so should not be seen as a malicious attack or character judgment, but rather as an honest mistake.
Here at Miami, the renovated restroom signs aren’t the first step toward a more accepting environment for all genders. Newer residence halls like those at Maplestreet Station have co-ed floors, where rooms of boys alternate with rooms of girls.
Could this layout ever be applied to all dorms? Perhaps some residence halls could be designated as completely gender-neutral, with boys and girls intermixed not only on floors, but also in rooms.
Students would have the opportunity to choose whether or not they would be comfortable living in this type of hall, the same way they now have the opportunity to choose their Living Learning Community.
Other colleges and universities have already done this, according to campuspride.org. Some, like University of Arizona and University of Utah, have special social justice wings designated for gender-neutral rooms, and others, like University of Louisville, have LGBTQ-themed communities. At New York University, and San Diego State University, gender-inclusive housing is available to all students.
What would the world look like if gender neutrality extended into other areas of life? Could there be all-gender multi-stalled public restrooms? What about locker rooms at gyms? What if when you walked into a store, there were not separate sections for men’s and women’s clothing?
If this sounds unreasonable right now, think of how things might change in coming decades or even centuries. Racial segregation was once the norm, and now it sounds ridiculous to discriminate based on skin color. Right now, it is important to recognize that these restroom signs are a step in the right direction. This adjustment is a sign that societal views are changing, even if it’s done in small steps.
We are realizing that people do not necessarily fit into socially prescribed categories. Those who don’t shouldn’t be shamed, judged or ignored. They should be accepted.