June 3, 2023
Ithaca, NY | 65°F


College works to improve access to all-gender bathrooms on campus

While the Ithaca College Student Governance Council has passed bills advocating for all-gender bathrooms, the Office of Facilities has implemented many changes regarding restrooms unprompted by the SGC and continues to do so. 

The SGC passed its Gender Neutral Bathrooms in All Academic Buildings bill April 11, 2022, which proposed several restroom signage updates and for additional all-gender restrooms to be added in academic buildings. The bill was sponsored by seniors Tessa Kurtz, vice president of academic affairs; Chief of Staff Lila Weiser; Senator-at-Large Max Powers; and Luca Maurer, executive director for Student Equity, Inclusion, and Belonging and the outgoing director of LGBTQ Education, Outreach and Services. After the bill was unanimously passed by the SGC, the senate sent the proposal to Tim Carey, former associate vice president of the Office of Facilities, who sent the SGC a detailed response to the requests in the bill. 

“Not only do we plan to equip newly constructed buildings with gender-neutral restroom options, but as we have executed recent renovation projects, we have proactively included them,” Carey said in the response. “This proactive approach will continue.”

The SGC did not have further contact with facilities until after The Ithacan inquired about updates regarding the bill. Carey retired in June 2022, which Kurtz and Weiser said they were not aware of. 

“I’m assuming that since [Carey] retired, some of the information that he had put in the bill was not passed on to the other parts of the department,” Kurtz said. “He did send it to us at the very end of the year, and we didn’t really have time to talk to him because I’m pretty sure it was around when we had finals.”

Renovations in recent years have increasingly added all-gender restroom locations across campus. The East and West Tower restrooms were renovated in 2017–18 and 96 gender-neutral bathrooms were added. An all-gender restroom was added in the location of Towers Eatery in 2019 and an all-gender bathroom was added in 2018 during renovations that were made to the restrooms on the lower level of Muller Hall.

Ernie McClatchie, associate vice president of the Office of Facilities, said he is meeting with Maurer on April 12 with one of the deans to discuss adding an all-gender bathroom in an academic building. The Office of Facilities is also working to install two all-gender restrooms in the Terrace Dining Hall during summer 2023. McClatchie said he is in conversation with Maurer and others to make restrooms more accessible by making floor-to-ceiling partitions in the stalls and showers as a solution to the difficulty of creating new restrooms in some buildings.

McClatchie said that while the signage is a simple change, the bill’s request for restrooms to be converted to all-gender bathrooms is not as easily done because the New York State Plumbing Code outlines how many restroom fixtures must be in a building. The bill states one female and one male restroom in each academic building should be converted to two all-gender restrooms. However, if a restroom that has four toilet fixtures was made into one all-gender restroom with a lock on the door, that restroom would only count as having one fixture. 

“Some of the academic buildings get a little complicated in that we have to have so many fixture counts, you know, toilets, urinals and everything based on the size of the building occupancy and stuff,” McClatchie said. “That’s why in many of these cases, it requires new builds, taking a space, a classroom, an office or something out and trying to build a new [restroom].”

McClatchie said that changing the signage as requested in the bill will be a relatively easy project that can happen short term. He said acquiring the new proper signage does take some time because the signs have braille and need to be ordered and shipped.

“[The bill] is very helpful to know where the actual concerns are, without doubt,” McClatchie said. “We’ll definitely be able to take and address these things that were pointed out that are pretty specific and then we’ll keep moving forward — as I think we are — with trying to get more [restrooms] and making that one of our goals on a yearly basis.”

While McClatchie said the signs are easy to update, they are a frequent target of student vandalism and theft. Recently in November 2022 the all-gender bathroom signs on the fifth floor of the Ithaca College Library were ripped off the wall as well as the wayfinding signs directing people to the restroom. 

Bernard Hogben, access services manager for the Ithaca College Library, said that in November 2022 he noticed the wayfinding signs and the all-gender restroom signs had been removed in the library.

“Someone damaged the walls to get them off,” Hogben said. “So at that point, I walked the rest of the building and it appears to be isolated to the west side of the building. I then contacted public safety and filed a report.”

Hogben realized the signs were missing again in March and were replaced again shortly after.

“I check them all the time,” Hogben said. “They’ve been there for 13 years. The only cameras are on the outside of the building and there’s no cameras within the building. … It’s really rare that something like this happens [in the library].”

Maurer said the occurrence of damage and theft of all-gender restroom signage seems like an isolated incident to the library facilities.

“I am not aware of any other [restroom] signs that have been tampered with or removed,” Maurer said. “I’m obviously concerned and hopeful that I’m not going to see any other behavior like that. In the history of IC, I’m not aware of that kind of thing happening before. So I’m wondering if something is different in terms of who is doing that. Everybody in the library has been wonderful about planfully making the library a space that’s affirming and inclusive for everyone. And that’s a part of it.”

While all-gender bathrooms are a less common target of campus theft and vandalism, other signage is regularly stolen or broken. 

“It’s terrible with exit signs,” McClatchie said. “Every weekend we lose quite a few to vandalism for some unknown reason. It’s not out of the ordinary for stuff like that to happen. … With cones, you can’t expect them to stay there for more than a few hours.”

McClatchie said people often assume a report has already been made, so facilities like missing signage, broken elevators or non-functioning automatic door buttons go unfixed because the Office of Facilities is unaware.

“We’ve had times where elevators have been down for a week and we had no idea because no one ever said anything,” McClatchie said. “It’s one of those simple things that if you know it’s not working, let us know so we can fix it.”

Tom Dunn, associate director and deputy chief in the Office of Public Safety, said via email that signage being stolen falls under the category of larceny, which includes any reports of stolen items. He said the same is true for vandalism of signage which would fall under criminal mischief but reports of criminal mischief could include any damage reports. 

The reports of criminal mischief and larceny are not specifically listed in the Annual Security and Fire Safety Report as individual categories and no data exists specific to the stealing or damage of signage on campus. 

In Fall 2021, there were 33 larceny and 35 criminal mischief reports, according to information sent by Dunn. In Spring 2022, there were 32 larceny and 41 criminal mischief reports. In Fall 2022, there were 59 larceny and 17 criminal mischief reports. So far in Spring 2023, there have been 26 larceny and 16 criminal mischief reports.

“We’ve been trying — through education the last couple of years — to make people know that it’s not just simply that you’re taking a sign,” McClatchie said. “There’s a lot of work behind it … and sometimes it creates a safety issue.”


Lorien Tyne can be reached at ltyne@ithaca.edu