SESP community discusses lack of all gender-bathrooms in Annenberg


Owen Stidman/ Daily Senior Staffer

All-gender bathroom in Norris Center.

Emily Sakai, Reporter

Northwestern’s School of Education and Social Policy students and faculty gathered Tuesday to share thoughts and possible solutions to address the lack of all-gender restrooms in Annenberg Hall, which houses SESP.

The town hall, hosted by SESP dean David Figlio, comes after student activists called attention to the fact that Annenberg’s restrooms are not inclusive of transgender or non-binary students by posting fliers and all-gender restroom signs throughout the building.

Addressing a group of several dozen concerned undergraduates, graduate students, faculty and staff, Figlio first apologized for the delay in updates, saying that every solution they explored seemed to lead to a “closed door.”

The issue is of “fundamental importance” to SESP leadership, Figlio said, and he has a personal connection to it through people he cares about.

Despite leadership’s commitment to the issue, there are difficulties in making an all-gender restroom in Annenberg, mostly due to Evanston coding laws and the physical architecture of the building, Figlio said. He added that while his goal would be to have an all-gender, multi-stall restroom in Annenberg, this would mean either making costly renovations or violating the city code.

SESP leadership instead has focused on building a single-stall restroom, despite its potential “othering” aspects, Figlio said.

“We think we have a place that may possibly work,” Figlio said. “We’re trying not to make the perfect the enemy of the good.”

SESP senior and Associated Student Government executive vice president Adam Davies pointed out that legislation signed by Gov. J.B. Pritzker updated Illinois’s restroom laws as of Jan. 1, designating all single-stall public restrooms as all-gender. Therefore, Evanston’s single-stall coding laws are out of date, showing room for advocacy, Davies said. The Evanston code says that if a building has two single-occupancy restrooms, one is designated for males and the other for females.

They added that there has been a precedent set for all-gender multi-stall bathrooms by other buildings at Northwestern, including Northwestern Hillel and the temporary Black House.

“There’s space for this to occur at the Evanston level and the state level,” Davies said. “It’s time for Northwestern to take a stand.”

Third-year doctoral student Ally Reith wondered why the University could not make one or more of the single-gender restrooms all-gender and “absorb the code violation?”

Figlio said there is an institutional risk involved with him making an official act violating Evanston code, saying that it would be “counterproductive” to his goal of including all-gender restrooms throughout the University. He added that he was concerned about the “potential legal risk for Northwestern” based on the public’s use of the building on the weekends.

One attendee brought up the idea of having one or more of the restrooms be designated as all-gender for weekdays and changing the signs back on the weekends. Many audience members showed their support for this proposal as it would provide trans and non-binary students a prompt, though temporary, solution. Figlio said if it can be done legitimately, then he’ll do it.

In the future, Figlio hopes to hold more open community discussions about the topic, and invited the attendees to reach out to him with any ideas they might have.

“How it happens, when it happens, I can’t say,” Figlio said. “But it’s going to happen. And I am on your team as far as that goes.”

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