When returning Athenian students arrived on campus this year, they may have noticed that some of the signs on single occupancy restrooms have been changed. An image of a toilet has replaced the stick figures previously used to indicate the gender for which the bathroom’s use was intended. The change came out of the work of a recently graduated student, David Meier ’16, who, upon returning from a visit to a college where all the bathrooms were gender-neutral, suggested to Dean of Equity and Inclusion Kalyan Balaven that the same system be implemented at Athenian.
“I put [David] in touch with [Head of School Eric Niles], and David and Eric went back and forth to dialogue on that and ultimately decided to change all 11 of the single-use bathrooms to be gender-neutral,” Balaven said of the process that led to the switch.
To gauge the receptiveness of the community to the change, an UNCENSORED discussion was held in the 2015-2016 Spring Semester on the topic of gendered bathroom signs. There, a significant majority of students voiced their support for a change and so, following the meeting, Meier, Niles, and Balaven worked to select a design for the bathroom symbol, ultimately choosing the image of a toilet.
“Originally there were some people who wanted to use the bifurcated, dress and no-dress stick figures, but then I asked, ‘Well who is wearing the dress? What assumption are we making here?’” Balaven said. “And so we settled on the toilet because it was the simplest to understand.”
According to Dean of Upper School Curriculum Gabe Del Real, the change is also important in that it
reflects Athenian’s values.
“It certainly speaks to the development of moral virtue, the height of which is justice, which is rendering what is due to someone to help them be more complete,” said Del Real. “In terms of the Pillars, this speaks specifically to International and Multicultural Understanding, with an emphasis on ‘multicultural.’”
Del Real also noted that in addition to mirroring Athenian’s values, changing the bathroom signs was also a move that kept our school aligned with current information about gender politics and thus was a natural complement to our forward-looking curriculum.
“I think this change shows the School’s continued commitment to the personal development of individual students informed by the most recent scholarship regarding the distinctions among the categories of sex, gender, and sexuality,” Del Real said.
That view of the change as respecting the multiplicity of people who are part of the Athenian community and evolving attitudes in the modern world is something felt among students as well.
“I think it has been a long time coming with this change,” Zoe Kusnick ’17 said. “We already have students for whom this change is really necessary and important for their comfort at school and I am glad to see we have finally implemented it to a degree.”