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UB students and faculty have mixed reactions to new gender-neutral restrooms

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Nicole Lowman doesn’t think a specific body part correlates with a sexual identification.

Lowman, a second-year English Ph.D. student, said she thinks dividing bathrooms between men and women assumes that gender correlates with sexuality.

Gender-neutral bathrooms are one of the many new additions in the recently reopened third floor of the Oscar A. Silverman library, located in Capen Hall.

Gender-neutral bathrooms have recently become a major topic of conversation after North Carolina legislatures passed the North Carolina House Bill 2. The legislation, often dubbed as the “bathroom bill,” blocked transgender individuals from using restrooms for the gender they identified as, according to CNN.

Lowman said she understands concern about sexual assault, but thinks the problem of sexual violence goes beyond bathroom labels. She said gender-segregated restrooms “presume heterosexuality.”

“I’ve gotten a lot of pushback for this, but I really think that if a person is the type of person who is going to sexually assault someone, they are going to do it whether or not there’s a sign letting them,” she said.

Lowman, who has experienced sexual violence, said she understands sexual assault is a very real concern. She said more times than not, sexual violence occurs between people who know each other.

Cynthia Wu, a transnational studies professor said it is important to “historicize” the situation since public bathrooms weren’t gender segregated until the early 20th century.

“When we think about gender segregated bathrooms as a supposedly stable, ahistorical, natural way of living in this world, we also have to push that and question it a little bit, because it wasn’t always this way,” Wu said.

Wu said the argument that gender-neutral bathrooms will increase the risk of sexual assault is a “red herring.”

“Trans women are by and large more likely to be victims of violence – physical violence, sexual violence, than anyone else in the general population and yet they’re being perceived as predators when they are in fact vulnerable,” she said.

Maryann Glab, a junior chemical engineering major, said she thinks the addition of gender-neutral restrooms serve a good purpose in the university.

“Definitely in college you want everyone to be as comfortable as possible, there’s no need to get your panties in a bunch over it,” Glab said.

UB set aside two floors in the Red Jacket Quad, located in the Ellicott Complex for gender-neutral housing in 2012. The housing was “anticipated to attract a broad range of students, from those who identify with lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender,” according to a 2012 news release.

First-year and returning students can apply for this housing, according to UB’s website.

Ram Subramanian, a junior computer engineering major, said the gender neutral restroom is a good idea, although he would never personally use it.

“I have my own political problems with the whole thing, but I don’t really care, I’m not for it or against it,” Subramanian said. “If it makes people happy, I’m happy. I don’t want to see anyone hurt over a [bathroom].”

James Herbstritt, a sophomore computer engineering major, said he thinks gender-neutral bathrooms show Buffalo’s “tolerant atmosphere.”

Herbstritt said the bathrooms usually come up in conversation with friends, but never in a controversial or negative way. He said gender-neutral restrooms are important to make everyone feel included.

“It’s the little things, you know?” Herbstritt said. “Little steps like that can make people feel like they belong instead of [feeling like] an outsider and that’s important.”

Sarah Crowley is the assistant news editor and can be reached at sarah.crowley@ubspectrum.com


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