NEW YORK – Fordham University recently approved the removal of common restroom signage indicating use for either the male or female sex at one building on the Lincoln Center campus, embracing part of a student-led campaign to make the University more “gender inclusive.”
According to The Fordham Observer, the changes to signs in the Leon Lowenstein building were pushed by The Positive, a student activist group. The restroom signage initiative started during the 2015 spring semester when The Positive reportedly entered into dialogue with Fordham’s administration and student government.
The Positive’s student leader, who identifies as a transgender male (a woman living as a man), told the Observer, “Having a restroom I could use without fear was definitely something I wanted.”
But the student readily noted that “this was never about bathrooms … this was always about more than that.”
The Observer reported that new signs were installed in single stall restrooms in the Leon Lowenstein building’s third floor. The new signs are “void of gender icons, include braille, the latest New York State handicap symbol and simply say ‘restroom.’”
“The Positive’s goal is not to convert multi-stall bathrooms to gender neutral, but to establish already single stall restrooms as gender inclusive spaces,” the Observer reported in April.
“Our strategy for attaining them right now, in the short-run, includes changing the signage of all single stall bathrooms on campus to be gender inclusive and to work to publicize those spaces.” The Positive told the Observer, later adding, “This is a proactive and conscientious effort to be gender inclusive.”
The Cardinal Newman Society reached out to Fordham University to inquire whether the restroom initiative could pose a conflict with Fordham’s Catholic identity, but no response was received by time of publication.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church states the following about the sexes:
Man and woman have been created, which is to say, willed by God: on the one hand, in perfect equality as human persons; on the other, in their respective beings as man and woman. ‘Being man’ or ‘being woman’ is a reality which is good and willed by God … In their ‘being-man’ and ‘being-woman,’ they reflect the Creator’s wisdom and goodness.
The Observer article includes a video with interviews of members from The Positive and other Fordham students on the bathroom initiative. The Positive’s student leader cited Fordham University President Father Joseph McShane’s words from an opening statement to prospective students as part of the inspiration for the campaign: “Fordham is a place where you may find that you are awoken to the world. You might be disturbed. I hope you are. I hope you end up a little disturbed.”
“If I don’t like something, if I’m disturbed by something, that is the perfect opportunity to implement change,” said The Positive’s student leader.
The Positive reportedly hopes to “further implement this gender-neutral bathroom initiative on campus and in other spaces around Fordham.”
In April, the Observer reported that some students opposed removing male and female restroom signs, with one student noting that if students do not agree with Fordham’s Catholic ideals they are not forced to attend.
The Positive’s student leader reportedly responded, “I don’t think that Fordham is so conservatively Christian that they ask us to simply stay silent when we think that something is wrong — when we know that something is wrong.”
The Observer noted that Fordham’s assistant dean and director of the Office of Multicultural Affairs, Juan Carlos Matos, researched “what Fordham’s peer Jesuit institutions offer in terms of ‘all gender’ restrooms.” They found that the University of San Francisco “uses all gender bathroom labeling on single stalled restrooms” and Georgetown University “has all gender signage on single-stalled bathrooms accompanied by both male and female gender icons and a handicap sign.”
“Of the nation’s 28 Jesuit colleges, only six offer gender-neutral bathrooms on their campuses. Five more are rumored to be considering making the change,” the Observer reported. The six Jesuit colleges with gender-neutral bathrooms are reportedly Boston College, Fairfield University, Fordham University, Georgetown University, Santa Clara University, the University of San Francisco and the University of Scranton.
The University of San Francisco lists gender-neutral bathrooms under the “Gender Identity/Expression policy” of its Residential Life website. Moreover, the University recently implemented “gender-inclusive housing” for the 2015-16 school year.
“It is intended that the gender-inclusive housing option will support S.H.a.R.E.’s [Student Housing and Residential Education] mission to create safe, affirming, and inclusive communities by providing options for students of varying identities and preferences,” the University housing website reads. Students may apply for the gender-inclusive housing for a variety of reasons, including if they “identify as transgender, do not wish to be identified by any sex or gender identity, [or] prefer to live with a roommate of a different gender.”
The five Jesuit colleges reportedly considering gender-neutral bathrooms are Creighton University, Gonzaga University, Loyola University New Orleans, Marquette University, and St. Joseph’s University. The Newman Society has also reported on mounting pressure for gender-neutral bathrooms at Loyola University Chicago.
An online PDF of a proposal from Creighton University’s Gay-Straight Alliance and Swanson Residence Hall Council claims that incorporating gender-neutral restrooms on campus maintains the Jesuit value of cura personalis and helps to “maintain a safe environment for the support, education, and assistance of all students.”
But in a recent Newman Society piece on transgender policies in schools, a diocesan priest in Saskatchewan, Canada, told the Society that “any program which leads students to accept identities which are contrary to the Catholic Faith will inevitably hurt students who are trying to live the Catholic Faith.”
“We can and must love the human person, even with all of their sufferings, [but] at the same time we cannot identify with their self-identities,” he said.
Published with permission