There’s an ongoing battle today for transgender and non-binary rights, inclusion, diversity and more on our nation’s college campuses — and students of all walks of life are often exposed to the manifestations of it.
At Princeton University, a private Ivy League school in New Jersey, someone or some group recently covered up the usual gender designation signs at restrooms in campus residences halls with posters that read: “This bathroom has been liberated from the gender binary,” according to The Daily Princetonian, the student newspaper.
Gender binary refers to a classification system of two genders, male and female — the way it’s been since the beginning of creation.
Princeton spokesman Ben Chang told the publication those responsible for the posters are so far unknown.
“Princeton defines gender-inclusive bathrooms (also called gender neutral) as single occupancy, lockable bathrooms,” and all other restrooms “have an assigned gender,” Darleny Cepin, director of student life at Mathey College, one of Princeton’s residential colleges, also told the publication.
Regardless, Cepin said students “are encouraged to use the bathroom that aligns with their gender identity and where they feel most comfortable.”
In other words — students are not compelled to use restrooms that correspond with their biological gender.
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Still, the posters were “not a call for a policy change from the [university] administration, but rather a statement of fact,” Princeton graduate student Ariana Natalie Myers and undergraduate digital editor Katherine Stiefel wrote in an op-ed for The Princeton Progressive last week.
“Princeton’s policy has been for years that campus community members may use whichever bathrooms they are most comfortable with, regardless of the individual’s gender designation by the state.”
The Princeton Progressive also weighed in on Facebook: “Did you notice signage covering gender restroom signs over campus yesterday? We have a letter from some of the organizers. ‘Symbols have power, and this has led most to assume that gender segregation of bathrooms has continued. Individuals can feel empowered to police who can or should be in a given bathroom…'”
Here’s how The Daily Princetonian reported a key part of this story:
Blair residential college adviser (RCA) Stephen Chen ’19 first noticed the posters when he went to take a shower [on Monday, February 18]. “My initial reaction was, ‘This seems to be a prank,’” he said, remarking that it seemed like a significant change, given that he had received no notice.
Chen checked with the other RCAs in Blair but said none had heard anything regarding the bathrooms from Mathey director of student life Darleny Cepin. Chen later sent a message to his advisee (“zee”) group chat, stating that the posters had no relation to the administration and that students could take them down. According to both Chen and screenshots shared by one of the students in the zee group chat, some of Chen’s zees openly opposed the posters.
Later in the day, Chen met with Cepin, who confirmed that the posters were not endorsed by the administration or related to any new policy, according to Chen.
“[She] warned us that there can be some consequences for people accepting these policies [expressed by the posters] before [they’re] official,” Chen said. “There are implications for RCDB (Residential College Disciplinary Board) … things where it can lead to misconduct.”
Chen noted that Title IX issues could arise if, for example, “a male [were] using the women’s restroom assuming it was gender neutral.” Chen, however, was concerned about the lack of information regarding the rules that students could get in trouble for not following. (source: The Daily Princetonian)
Akhil Rajasekar, president of Princeton’s chapter of the Federalist Society, a conservative group, discussed the issue with Campus Reform recently; his views on the matter are solely his, he said.
“The people responsible for this undoubtedly believe their mission to liberate bathrooms rises to parity with the great liberation movements of our history,” said Rajasekar, as Campus Reform noted. “The reality is, however, that they crusade for an absurd cause in a ridiculous way and display their juvenility, inconsiderately disrupting university life in the process. To them, I say: Find a higher calling.”
Princeton, it seems, is not alone in its aims to please small minorities of students on campus.
Washington State University, a public college in Pullman, Washington, began stocking men’s restrooms a couple of months ago with free menstrual products.
It’s an effort to improve the transgender community experience on campus, according to Campus Reform.
Elizabeth Economou is a former CNBC staff writer and adjunct professor. Follow her on Twitter.