Small Physical Changes, Large Attitude Change in Inclusiveness Initiative

During the last few years, Augustana has been actively improving its inclusiveness. More recently, there has been talk of installing more gender-neutral bathrooms on campus.
In October of 2015, the Augustana Observer discussed this movement towards a more inclusive campus with Jake Phillips, a member of the Gay Straight Alliance. They had expressed concerns with the safety and acceptance of transgender people on campus.
When we asked them if their opinion had changed since October, specifically regarding gender-neutral facilities, Phillips said, “I still have the same opinion, in the sense that I’m still really uncomfortable with not having gender neutral bathrooms.”
They continued to explain the difficulties that come with being transgender, such as the confusion people have when someone they don’t know is transgender is in their bathroom.
For Phillips and those like them, these bathrooms cannot come soon enough.
Back in 2015, the Department of Academic Affairs organized a retreat had a theme of becoming a more inclusive campus. Among the topics discussed was the introduction of these gender-neutral facilities.
Augustana’s Vice President, Kent Barnds, who is overseeing the operation, was eager to talk about changes on campus. In his view, the physical changes on campus have been modest, perhaps even hard to notice.
Things that he mentioned had been done, for example, were quick fixes, such as making sure doors had locks and changing some signs. Barnds mentioned that many of the larger buildings on campus are not currently planned to have gender-neutral facilities.
“Some of our primary buildings are not included [at this point], Hansen Hall of Science, Olin, the Gerber Center, Old Main. We would have to do some significant renovation and change of those existing facilities to make them gender neutral. That is something that we are not ready to do right now,” explained Barnds.
Barnds clarified that all newer installations would certainly include gender-neutral facilities.
When asked if this was a priority for Augustana, he was quick to dispel any doubt that the campus was working hard in their goals. “We have moved as quickly as we could. You want to make sure you have all your ducks in a row before you make a public announcement,” said Barnds.
What Augustana may be lacking in clear physical changes, Barnds says it has tried to make up for it in personal support. Barnds reported a general positive response from many students, but mentioned some faculty by name, such as Dr. Brian Katz, Dr. Pareena Lawrence, Dr. Evelyn Campbell, and Dr. Margaret France who all had shown keen interest in this initiative. He also mentioned a student project that Augustana referenced which surveyed the buildings to decide where new bathrooms would be most appropriate.
When asked if they felt the school was working hard enough to become as inclusive as possible, Phillips seemed optimistic. They were sympathetic to the difficulties that come with changing buildings.
“In terms of how we talk about [inclusiveness], there’s been a lot of really good discussion. In terms of discussion, we are doing really well and that could turn into some changes in buildings,” Phillips said. “Until they can start changing things on campus, they are doing really well with how they interact with the students.”
During this term, Barnds will be releasing a public announcement regarding gender-neutral bathrooms and inclusiveness at Augustana.