In an email sent to Wharton undergraduates on April 19, Wharton Dean Geoffrey Garrett announced the construction of gender-neutral restrooms on the forum level of Huntsman Hall. The same email also announced that half of the restrooms in the Colonial Penn Center are now accessible to “people of any gender” following a change in signage.
The restrooms will be located outside the Ambani Auditorium on the Walnut Street side. Wharton will also add a lactation suite on the first floor of Huntsman Hall.
The construction of the restrooms is the product of a semester-long collaboration between Penn Non-Cis, Out for Business and Wharton Women in Business.
Penn Non-Cis is a student-run organization designed to serve the needs of the university’s transgender community. Out for Business is a club for Wharton graduate students, faculty and staff who identify as part of the LGBT community. Wharton Women helps women MBAs build professional and social networks.
On Nov. 20, 2015, the Transgender Day of Remembrance, MBA candidate and outgoing Out for Business co-president Jennifer Redmond set out to build gender-neutral bathrooms in Huntsman. Redmond’s interest was piqued after she learned that Huntsman didn’t have any gender-neutral restrooms, unlike many other academic buildings on Penn’s campus.
The three organizations co-authored and signed a proposal delivered to Dean Garrett earlier this semester. In a span of about two to three months, the administration was extremely responsive and receptive to the students’ needs, Redmond said
The administration has not yet released the timeline for the construction of the bathrooms. The restrooms will be paid for using school funds, said Dr. Anita Henderson, Senior Director to the Deputy Dean of Wharton, in an emailed statement.
College freshman Aiden Castellanos, education chair for Penn Non-Cis, sees the construction of the gender-neutral bathrooms as a major triumph for the transgender community. He described gender-neutral restrooms as single-stalled restrooms that can help alleviate a lot of the emotional and physical stress that accompanies bathroom usage by transgender individuals.
“You have to go over and think about, how am I dressed today. Could this possibly incite violence from other people?” Castellanos said.
Castellanos explained that questions like these can deter transgender individuals from using the restrooms available to them all day long, something he struggled with as a high school student and inspired him to advocate for the construction of gender-neutral restrooms.
Castellanos doesn’t see the construction of gender-neutral restrooms as particularly disruptive or offensive to people who are comfortable with traditional gendered bathrooms. “A gender-neutral restroom, the nicest thing about it, is that anyone could use it,” he said.
He also cited the functionality of gender-neutral restrooms as family restrooms. Gender neutral restrooms may be the best options for parents who need to change the diapers of their young children, he said.
“I think it’s great that they’re doing it. I think it shows a concern for the comfort and safety of students who are trans or not binary,” said a College freshman and member of the LGBTQ community who did not wish to be identified.
Other students are pleased with the construction, but don’t view it as a reflection of Wharton’s genuine interest in protecting the rights of its students.
“The thing I’m not actually as crazy about ... is the fact that this has been celebrated a lot as something that is almost a Wharton brand alignment with the ongoing transgender rights issues when the reality is that I think it really should be portrayed as Wharton catching up,” said College senior Aidan McConnell, co-founder of “The Statesman,”a Penn political publication that gives voices to under-represented political opinions at Penn.
McConnell noted that some of his friends have been similarly skeptical of businesses in North Carolina, which have become more transgender friendly to appeal to consumers who are critical of the recent bathroom bills passed in the state. These bills prohibit individuals from using gendered bathrooms unless they are biologically that gender.
McConnell said such attempts don’t represent the sincerely held beliefs of individuals who are fighting for people’s rights.
Regardless of the motives, gender-neutral bathrooms will help the students they are designed to serve.
“It doesn’t need to be a controversial issue; it’s just a matter of needing to use the restroom,” Castellanos said.
Please note All comments are eligible for publication in The Daily Pennsylvanian.