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(Leanne Young / The McGill Tribune)

School of Social Work progresses gender-inclusive bathroom initiative in Wilson Hall

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The Social Work Student Association (SWSA) was recently victorious in its three-month campaign to make bathrooms in the School of Social Work’s (SSW) Wilson Hall bathrooms gender-inclusive. On Jan. 9, the SSW degendered all of the bathrooms except for those on the second floor, which houses offices for the Faculty of Arts. The issue of gendered bathrooms has been on the SWSA’s agenda since October 2017, when several undergraduate Social Work students brought it to the association’s attention.  

“A non-binary student had a lot of issues with being followed into bathrooms by [McGill] security […] in the Redpath library,” SWSA Vice-President (VP) Internal Vincent Mousseau said. “[They] basically told them that they were in the wrong place, which is extremely problematic.”

The SSW initially planned to address the matter by clearly delineating existing gender-inclusive bathrooms and making them more accessible to people with disabilities. However, the SWSA successfully pressured the School to change all of the bathrooms in Wilson Hall to be gender-inclusive as well.

“The research showed us that there were no increased rates of sexual violence against women in degendered bathrooms,” Mousseau said. “The statistics actually show us […] increased rates of suicidality, increased rates of anxiety and depression among trans people when they don’t have access to bathrooms.”

Because the School was initially willing to make the existing gender-inclusive, single-stall bathrooms more accessible, but unwilling to redesignate other gendered bathrooms, the SWSA took matters into their own hands. On Nov. 20, the Trans Day of Remembrance, the SWSA put up signs in Wilson Hall designating its bathrooms gender-neutral without the approval of the SSW.

“The safety of these transgender and nonconforming students [could not] wait,” Mousseau said. “We just took the unilateral action of putting the signs up on all of the [bathroom] doors in the building [.…] with information [on posters] about why we’re doing this.”

These signs were repeatedly torn down by the administration in Wilson Hall, most often on the third floor, where the SSW offices are located. The SWSA received emails from the School on Nov. 21 calling for them to desist and suggesting a meeting to discuss the issue.

On Nov. 22, the SWSA and Queer McGill held a demonstration outside Wilson Hall in support of the campaign. Director of the SSW, Nico Trocmé, then agreed to a meeting with the SWSA on Dec. 1, when two committees were formed to negotiate the redesignation of the bathrooms and to foster conversation within the School about the restroom issue, respectively. These committees are composed of Social Work staff, SWSA members, and external consultants from organizations like the Social Equity and Diversity Education Office.

SWSA U3 representative and redesignation committee member Noah Markis-Morrison believes the committees helped pressure the School to redesignate its bathrooms.

“As we gained support within the faculty and with the committee that was formed, we began to see some progress with the School’s willingness to address these issues,” Markis-Morrison said.

The SSW approved the change just before the December final exams period. Over winter break, the committee worked to ensure that returning students would have their choice of restroom respected. The next step for the SWSA is to acclimate the McGill community  to the changes by encouraging discussion among staff and students through forums and sensitivity exercises within the School.

“Recognizing that Wilson Hall is slated for major reconstruction in the next two or three years, we have nevertheless made changes that significantly improve access and safety,” Trocmé said. “The full renovation of Wilson Hall […] will allow for a proper redesign of the washrooms to have closed-stall, all-gender washrooms.”

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