AU Pride hosts town hall meeting regarding recent bathroom changes
Students gathered to express concerns over removal of multi-stall gender-neutral bathrooms on campus
American University Pride hosted a town hall event on Nov. 3 as a space for students to voice concerns about how the University’s removal of 14 gender-neutral bathrooms on campus in preparation for a renovation project has impacted the community. AU’s Chief Financial Officer, Vice President and Treasurer Bronté Burleigh-Jones was present, and the event was co-sponsored by AU Students for Change, the Disabled Student Union, AU College Democrats, the South Asian Student Association and the AU ACLU chapter.
The town hall began with Burleigh-Jones explaining more about the AU administration’s decision, followed by a Q&A session of questions submitted online by community members prior to the event. Afterwards, the floor was opened for questions from in-person attendees.
According to Burleigh-Jones, during the spring and summer of this year, the University administration conducted a full inventory of on-campus restrooms after receiving concerns about privacy issues regarding restrooms on campus. The results indicated that AU was below the minimum requirement for gender specific bathrooms, according to D.C. Code 2902. Following this discovery, the University changed all 14 multi-stall gender-neutral restrooms on campus to single-sex ones, and ten new single-stall, all-gender, ADA-accessible restrooms will be constructed in the following months. In the meantime, 125 single-stall all-gender restrooms remain.
“Returning the University to compliance status was not optional,” Burleigh-Jones said. “That was an action we needed to take.”
Cheyenne Smith, a junior in the School of Public Affairs and the director of AU Pride, said members’ initial reaction was disappointment.
“A lot of us had chosen AU because of its inclusive queer community, so to see something like this … was shocking,” Smith said. “This is a step back for the queer community and the disabled community.”
Perry Zurn, an associate professor of philosophy and the faculty advisor for AU Pride, spoke about how troubling this decision was for the transgender and nonbinary communities.
“This is a way of saying, ‘you don’t really belong in public and social places,’” he said. “Your way of being in the world requires your isolation.”
The international plumbing codes approved a provision to include multi-gender, multi-stall restrooms in 2018, and was amended in 2021. The D.C. plumbing codes are built off of the international codes, and the government is currently considering retaining this amendment into new D.C. codes, according to Zurn.
Henry Fix, a junior in the School of International Studies, spoke at the event about how they wished the University had acted regarding this topic.
“When there’s not enough communication about important changes the administration is making, it comes across like AU doesn’t care about its transgender students,” Fix said. They also urged the administration to communicate more transparently. “For something this sensitive, I also ask that the University think through plans like this very thoroughly before changes are made, which includes talking to queer students so that students who use gender-neutral bathrooms are not left stranded as construction is completed.”
Following the AU community’s negative response to this change, Burleigh-Jones and other leadership have agreed to take four to six weeks to collaborate with a working group and reconsider how they will go forward if D.C. changes its codes to align with the international code, she said during the town hall. Depending upon this, the construction of the new restrooms is expected to begin in March or April 2023 and finish around July.
“As AU Pride, we believe that there’s a way to be in line with codes while also making sure we are following AU’s strategic plan for inclusive excellence,” Smith said at the event. “There’s a way to make sure that everyone in the community is being heard, being seen and still feeling included.”