Emily Perlow stands in the Campus Center, with students walking around behind her. She is smiling and wearing a purple dress, blue necklace, and black and white striped blazer.

Gender-Inclusive Restrooms on Campus

Another step toward inclusivity with gender-inclusive restrooms, preferred names on IDs
October 24, 2017

WPI strives toward inclusivity of its campus community, and what began as a recent Interactive Qualifying Project (IQP) has developed into a widespread campus change that furthers the university’s priority of being a safe, inclusive space for all.

As part of their IQP in 2016, students Jonathan Berry, Rebekah Johnson, and Christian Peguero worked together to tally all the existing restrooms on campus, identified those that could be easily converted into gender-inclusive restrooms, and set in motion a plan to do just that.

A gender-inclusive restroom in Gordon

“Creating a list of all the single-use restrooms on campus is quite an undertaking, and the students were incredibly helpful,” says assistant dean of students Emily Perlow.

Over the summer, Perlow worked with Facilities to cover the cost of the new signs and their installation. She is quick to add that the department worked to ensure the new signs matched the aesthetics of each building, which range from modern offices to older, more historic locales.

Thanks to the work of the students, their advisor Adrienne Hall-Phillips, Nicholas Palumbo, and numerous Facilities staff members, Perlow, the Gordon Library staff, and the Office of Multicultural Affairs, there are now gender-inclusive restrooms in 17 buildings on campus, with the commitment that, moving forward, all new buildings (including the Foisie Innovation Studio and Messenger Residence Hall) will include gender-inclusive restrooms. Marketing Communications has also added each of the gender-inclusive restrooms to the interactive campus map so they can be easily located.

“For us, it’s about sending a powerful message about the fact that no matter your gender identity, everybody uses the bathroom,” Perlow says. “We have to make sure that we’re providing spaces where people can safely use the restrooms.”

In addition to the conversion of single-stall restrooms, Gordon Library also houses the first gender-inclusive multi-stall restroom on campus. The restroom, located on the first floor in the newly renovated computer labs, was formerly a men’s room, but was recently re-signed. Perlow says that it is clearly labeled as “All gender multi-stall restroom.”

While many changes have been incoming, Perlow emphasizes that men’s and women’s restrooms will still be available throughout campus, and that the goal is to respect everyone’s preferences by broadening what the university offers to all.

Another step forward comes from the ID office, where trans and gender-fluid students, faculty, and staff now have the option to have their preferred names printed on their WPI IDs. In the past, those wishing to share their preferred name could alert the Dean of Students Office, who would then work with IT to manually change a handful of on-campus systems, such as email addresses and the campus directory.

“Our strategic plan includes a focus on making sure our campus is open and inclusive for everyone, including students, faculty, staff, and guests. This is a step in the right direction when it comes to being welcoming to all gender identities.” -Emily Perlow

“If everyone knows a WPI community member as ‘Jessica’ but their legal name is ‘John’ and nobody knows that, and the community member has to produce an ID that says ‘John,’ it makes for an uncomfortable situation that essentially outs the person,” Perlow explains.

However, if the students hadn’t legally changed their names—a complex process that, depending on where they’re from, could potentially take years—their given names still need to appear on their IDs for compliance purposes. Eventually, a solution was reached: the community members' preferred names would be printed on the front of the ID, and their legal names printed on the back.

The effort to expand upon this process to include IDs was led by director of the Housing & Residential Experience Center Casey Wall, who is pleased to see the work of IT, Campus Police, Network Operations, the Housing & Residential Experience Center, and the Dean of Students Office to fruition. “We’re thrilled to provide a more inclusive WPI ID for our students and the entire WPI community.”

Questions have been raised about whether international students or students with preferred nicknames are eligible. While Perlow says they’re open to working on accommodating these students’ needs in the future, they’re still ironing out the entirely manual process; therefore, the service is currently only available to gender-fluid and transgender students.

There are no plans for preferred pronouns to be included on IDs, but Perlow encourages members of the WPI community to list their pronouns outside their offices or in their email signatures.

“Our strategic plan includes a focus on making sure our campus is open and inclusive for everyone, including students, faculty, staff, and guests,” Perlow says. “This is a step in the right direction when it comes to being welcoming to all gender identities.”

- By Allison Racicot