Transphobic incidents at Lawrence University

Lawrence boasts a strong dedication to inclusivity regarding LGBTQ+ students. With a large percentage of its student population identifying as LGBTQ+, Lawrence generally proves to be an accepting and safe environment for students of this demographic. However, over the past several years, there have been multiple instances of transphobic vandalism on campus, the most recent of which occurred in both Colman Hall and the Hurvis Center for Film Studies. Both buildings were the targets of vandalism that reflected sentiments against gender neutral bathrooms. 

On the morning of Apr. 8, program support coordinator for the Hurvis Film Center José Lozano discovered that the gender neutral bathroom signs in the film center had been defaced in permanent marker with a “W” and an “M,” standing for women’s and men’s. He quickly covered the vandalism with two sticky notes, which were subsequently taken down by another unknown person. The bathrooms in Hurvis have been designated gender neutral to reflect the progressive nature of the film department and the faculty’s encouragement of inclusivity. Lozano asks of the perpetrator, “What could they possibly be wanting to get out of this?” He also noted that “it is illegal to vandalize private property.” The graffiti has since been removed and the faculty intends to review the security footage.

In Colman, a residence hall with gender-segregated floors, students had been writing messages on their floor whiteboard that insisted some transgender students be excluded from using the floor bathroom. As a reaction to these comments, the residence life staff in Colman has removed the whiteboard. This incidence, however, is not limited to a singular whiteboard and permeates the campus culture outside of Colman.

Gender neutral bathrooms are essential for promoting inclusivity on campus and access to them should be expanded. Transphobic and any other hateful vandalism should not be tolerated at Lawrence, or anywhere else for that matter. Lawrence must be more active in preventing and reprimanding this vandalism, as well working to provide more resources for its LGBTQ+ students.

 We spoke with freshman Sterling Ambrosius and sophomore Quentin Washington to discuss gender inclusive facilities on campus as well as queer student experiences at Lawrence in general. Ambrosius is the Chair of the Student Welfare Committee as well as Chair of the Gender Inclusive Facilities Task Force (GIFT). Washington is the founder of the Trans Student Support Group and also a member of GIFT. Both students in the LGBTQ+ community have had their own personal experiences of discrimination regarding gender conformity. Washington recalled times where he had been kicked out of gendered restrooms and Ambrosius mentioned that oftentimes ze has not felt safe in binary male-gendered spaces and had faced losing friends over zir choice to use “women’s” restrooms instead.

It was through these personal experiences, indicative of a greater issue of gender discrimination, that they decided to take action. Washington said, “Lawrence is known for [implementing] change, but only when it is forced into those changes.” Washington specifically had put up fliers in Hurvis in order to let people know that it was a gender-inclusive space and meant to encourage respect. He was dismayed by the negative reaction coming from the vocal minority. However, GIFT is specifically working to implement policy that will protect these spaces and to create more of them.

Ambrosius stated, “Technically, according to the Lawrence policy, we are allowed to use whatever restroom we want, but in practice it doesn’t normally work that way. So the goal this year is not to completely eliminate gendered restrooms, because we know that a lot of people who might come from a more conservative background just aren’t okay with that yet.” The current goal that has been set out is to have 50 percent of bathrooms on campus be non-gendered within the next year or so.

This may sound like a huge task, but in reality, it just starts with changing signs. Initially, bathrooms that currently have urinals would have their signs replaced regardless to help start the culture shift. As funds are raised for renovations, the bathrooms would be converted to have stalls. Many people are also genuinely concerned about the risk of different forms of assault in gender inclusive bathrooms, but Ambrosius noted that in reality, “[…] they have done studies and there is a zero percent increase in physical, sexual or verbal assaults in those restrooms. In fact, [risk of assault] actually goes down for [LGBTQ+] people.” This carries into another goal of GIFT, which is the process of educating people on these issues to help change the culture. Through informational meetings in residence halls, GIFT aims to address people’s concerns and give them the facts. Ambrosius acknowledged that some people will still believe what they choose to believe, but once the information is out there, that becomes their choice to either accept it or ignore it.

Both Ambrosius and Washington are optimistic however, because of the general student and faculty support of these issues and the consensus on them. Washington added that, “[…] hopefully over time, when we do implement these changes, the culture will change. Incoming students won’t know all the steps it took to get these facilities, but they will appreciate having them. There will probably be even more transgender and nonbinary people who will say, ‘Hey, I just want to pee!” and they should have spaces that aren’t in a basement or in an attic.”

Young LGBTQ+ students need a campus that is safe and comfortable, since they might not get that same type of support at home or any other place. We hope that Lawrence embraces a shift towards a fully gender-inclusive campus.