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College goes gender neutral in washrooms

Douglas College is joining institutions across North America in creating barrier-free spaces for members of the LGBTQ community.
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SAFE SPACE Brett Collins and Douglas College instructor Jaime Yard were part of a group at the college that petitioned administrators to convert single-stall washrooms at both New Westminster and Coquitlam campuses to gender-neutral washrooms, which are inclusive to everyone.

Douglas College is joining institutions across North America in creating barrier-free spaces for members of the LGBTQ community.

On the insistence of two former students and a current instructor, Douglas College spent the summer converting its single-stall washrooms to gender-neutral washrooms that are accessible to everyone in hopes of creating more inclusive spaces for students, staff and faculty.

The idea was born in an anthropology of gender and sexuality class taught by Jaime Yard. Yard had her students conduct an audit of the local campus to determine how accessible, safe and inclusive the campus community is. She used a survey she found online as a template to guide the class. It covered everything from barrier-free washrooms to whether or not the school had official policies regarding equality, she said

“So what I had the class do was sort of work from this online template I found, revise the questions together so that they fit for our campus context and then they had about two weeks to go out and answer all the questions,” Yard told the Record.

Over the two weeks, students roamed Douglas College to determine how accessible it was for all students, all the while keeping Yard’s challenge in mind to “think about the campus in a different way.”

“One of the most basic equity issues is on the level of having people’s biological needs met, and students overwhelmingly noted the washroom facilities and the change-room facilities were inadequate,” Yard said.

Former Douglas College student union Pride liaison Milo Leraar and former student Brett Collins were invited to join Yard in developing a research project that was eventually presented to college administrators.

“By the time the official audit got rolling, Brett Collins had been working as the research student assistant,” Leraar said. “So the scope of my role was really in laying theoretical foundations and, I’m a transgender person, so speaking from a trans-community perspective in regards to starting the project as well as leading a queer-competency training class for faculty and staff.”

From there, Collins took over as Yard’s research assistant and together the pair petitioned the Douglas College admin to change all single-stall washrooms to gender-neutral washrooms.

The administration was very supportive, Collins said.

At the time, Douglas College was about to update the single-stall washroom signs, so it was decided now was as good a time as any to make the change to gender-neutral facilities.

“As with any public institution there’s an expectation that one is going to be safe and that one is going to be able to get what one is there for and one is there to learn and in order to do that comfortably you have to be able to go to the washroom,” Collins said. “If you’re a public institution, you’re expected to be accessible to the public not just a portion of the public, that’s a private club.”

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