Co-ed dormitories are being implemented in various universities around the country, but Grinnell College, a small, liberal arts college in Iowa, is taking that idea one step further by creating "gender-neutral" locker rooms, an idea propelled by transgender students who choose not to identify themselves as either male or female, the Des Moines Register reported.
"This is a comfortable option for those that have trouble deciding whether to go to the bathroom - with the skirt or the pants on the sign," said Andrea Conner, director of residence life and orientation.
In the residence halls, students vote on whether or not the bathrooms are gender neutral.
"It's about an ethos. It's about creating a safe and welcoming space," said Lily Cross, a senior who helped make the push for gender-neutral housing, which led to the gender-neutral locker rooms.
Grinnell College is most certainly not the only college in the country with gender-neutral facilities. At least 54 universities around the country have gender-neutral facilities, including Ohio State University, University of Chicago, University of Iowa and Wesleyan College in Massachusetts, according to AmplifyYourVoice.org, a gay activist website.
"Each year we hear about more campuses adding that as an option," said James Baumann, spokesman for the Association of College and University Housing Officers – International, according to USA Today. "I think the changes are a reflection of changing times."
However, the "changing times" are causing some universities to change the other way, as demonstrated by the recent move by Catholic University president John Garvey to return to gender-specific dormitories, instead of the co-ed dorms it had used for several years. Garvey cited "virtue" as the goal.
"Aristotle suggests, in the Nichomachean Ethics, that you need to live a virtuous life to point you in the right direction," Garvey wrote in a Wall Street Journal op-ed piece in June, shortly after the school announced its new policy. Although Garvey admitted that the policy would be considered "old-fashioned," he considered it "counter-cultural" in its intention.
"I think it's counter-cultural for a university to say that it's part of our business to concern ourselves with the development of our students in the practice of virtue, as well as in their intellectual faculties," he wrote.
However, according to the Transgender Law Center, gender-specific bathrooms are a "frequent form of discrimination." The lack of gender-neutral bathrooms, the TLC said, has caused transgendered people to get harassed, beaten, and arrested in both women's and men's rooms, causing many to simply avoid bathrooms, which can lead to health problems.
With the changes at Grinnell College, at least one transgender student has said the attitude towards gender has made life easier.
Austin McKinney, a Canadian, male-to-female transgender student at Grinnell living with a heterosexual female, was asked directly and openly by his new roommate if he was transgender. He was happy by the openness and being addressed by the proun he prefers, the Des Moines Register reported.
Having faced bathroom issues before, McKinney said he has met a lot of people with similar accounts.
"We trade bathroom stories like trading cards," he said.