SESP Dean David Figlio held a town hall discussion on Annenberg’s lack of gender-inclusive bathrooms in the building’s Student Affairs Office Tuesday.
Flyers went up last year reading, “There are no all-gender bathrooms in Annenberg. Trans and non-binary students deserve better.” Fourth year SESP student Adam Davies, who’s had to move classes out of Annenberg because of the issue, thinks it’s especially offensive that a school of social policy is unable to provide such a basic service for its students.
“It’s a violation of our Title IX rights,” Davies said. “As a student of Northwestern who is non-binary, I deserve the right to the same education as everyone else here. And right now, Annenberg and SESP are not able to give that to me.”
However, according to Figlio, the lack of action on the school’s part has not been due to a lack of attention. Work on bringing all-gender bathrooms to Annenberg began before the flyers appeared, but attempts to do so have so far hit fiscal or procedural roadblocks, so progress has gone slow and unnoticed.
“If we thought we could do this, it would be done already,” he said.
Figlio said the most effective solution would be a policy change in The City of Evanston altering current building codes for bathrooms, which he sees as unnecessarily difficult to work with. Advocacy on that front, done in part by students, he said, could lead to progress across campus, where the current situation is really one of many.
“This is not just about Annenberg,” he said. “This is about Northwestern.”
In the likely event that Evanston’s “intolerable” codes continue to prohibit a simple answer, the current solution seems to be the physical installation of a new single-stall all-gender bathroom—which is not logistically ideal.
“I don’t think it’s going to be prohibitively expensive,” Figlio said. “But I have no idea what it will be yet. I will say that it will require people coming in and swinging sledge hammers and knocking down walls and plumbing things that aren’t plumbed, because all the things we thought we could do to solve this problem, we can’t.”
SESP masters student Hannah Merens said they understand how much Dean Figlio and those in power are working to solve the problem. Still, Merens sees the struggle going on for much longer.
“At the end of the day, I don’t get to enter this building tomorrow or until I graduate in June with a permanent, gender-neutral bathroom,” Merens said. "Is that entirely on them? Absolutely not. Do I think that means they don’t care? Absolutely not. However, it is the fact of the situation.”
For now, Davies thinks investing in the single-stall option in Annenberg should be the next step, but that it’s still important for those in power to keep moving things forward.
“I think in the future, SESP and Northwestern need to put the work in to advocate for this, and they need to take a stance,” Davies said. “Because right now they’re not.”