On Wednesday morning, a small group of students posted signs and occupied bathrooms in Dwinelle Hall as part of an ongoing effort to pressure the administration to provide more gender-neutral restroom options on campus.
The group behind the protest, known as the Bathroom Brigade, displayed signs and covered the male and female icons on the bathroom doors with notices encouraging “everyone, of all genders, to use this bathroom.” Additional notices, designating the bathrooms as gender-neutral spaces, were placed over stalls, mirrors and towel dispensers, while participants handed out flyers to incoming students.
In recent weeks, the Bathroom Brigade has made similar efforts to rebrand restrooms in Evans Hall and the Valley Life Sciences Building in order to pressure administration to provide at least one gender-neutral bathroom in every building.
The protests hinge on the university’s response to a measure approved by UC President Janet Napolitano last September that would convert single-stall bathrooms to gender-neutral ones and incorporate those bathrooms into new buildings on campus.
For some students, however, change has not come fast enough.
“I think the university’s administration has dragged its feet,” said Sben Korsh, a first-year graduate student, in an email. “The campus has known about this issue for decades, and they are still throwing up bureaucratic barriers for providing these safe spaces for students.”
According to Christine Shaff, director of communications for the campus real estate division, the process of converting gendered bathrooms can be far more complex than it initially appears. While in some instances, Shaff said, it costs as little as “changing a lock,” more commonly, conversion is a coordinated effort between architects and building officials, who must consider state building codes and the cultural and religious preferences of the many varied groups on campus.
“There’s all kinds of regulations that make changing the designation much more complicated than changing the sign on the door,” Shaff said.
According to Shaff, the campus has made strides to implement Napolitano’s directive — with gender-neutral facilities in Barrows and Dwinelle halls and plans for such facilities in the new Eshleman Hall. Campus administrators have also been working with the Gender Equity Resource Center to verify and update a list of all gender-inclusive restrooms on campus.
For Amanda Armstrong, a UC Berkeley doctoral student, access to these restrooms remains an issue — the all-gender facilities in Dwinelle Hall, for instance, are often locked or poorly maintained.
“We don’t want to come across as not appreciating the work that’s been done,” Armstrong said. “But it’s a safety issue in the interim that affects people’s daily lives.”
The Bathroom Brigade plans to continue protesting in a different location next week.