Making Stuyvesant More Inclusive
Reading Time: 4 minutes
I recall walking down the third floor of Stuyvesant one day and entering the bathroom. The door was wide open, and I, unsure about the floor plan of the bathrooms in Stuyvesant, convinced myself that I was walking into the boys’ bathroom. As I walked out, I turned my head and felt a rush of relief when the sign did in fact read “Boys.” I now know that neither bathroom was actually the right one for me, since I do not identify as male.
I realized I was gender non-conforming a little over a month ago and have only recently started telling my peers that I use they/them pronouns. I have yet to feel secure about telling my teachers my pronouns. Even as I write this article, I am afraid that I am revealing vulnerable information about myself and am not sure how people, especially authority figures, will react to it. This discomfort with being able to openly discuss my gender identity and pronouns has translated to a level of internalized shame and hatred, preventing me from being able to achieve self-acceptance. I know that this discomfort is not unique to myself, but is rather an experience that is shared by many non-binary and gender non-conforming students at Stuyvesant.
The environment of Stuyvesant furthers this uneasiness, particularly in its lack of gender neutral bathrooms. In a school with over 3000 students, there is one single-stall gender neutral bathroom on the fifth floor. The lack of adequate bathrooms forces many transgender and non-binary students, like myself, to feel unsafe and uncomfortable about their identity. However, the administration and the Student Union (SU) can work together to create a Stuyvesant environment that is truly inclusive of students of all genders.
Thankfully, the SU has delved into the first steps of making Stuyvesant more inclusive. According to a recent e-mail that SU President Shivali Korgaonkar sent out to the student body, the SU has taken on the “initiative of adding an additional gender neutral bathroom to the building and promoting pronoun awareness to staff/students” and has tried to incorporate student opinions into their efforts by sending out a survey. The SU has been somewhat successful in pushing this initiative forward. “The overall response from the administration to our advocacy has been overall very positive,” SU Vice President said in an e-mail interview. It feels comforting to see that the administration and the SU have started to respond to the needs of gender non-conforming students, but this step is only the beginning of progress. Concrete plans still need to be formed, both for creating more gender neutral bathrooms and for making Stuyvesant feel safer and more welcoming to gender non-conforming students.
The problems created by the one single-stall gender neutral bathroom in the entire building can be remedied by creating more gender neutral bathrooms, both single and multi-stalled, throughout the building. “The physical architecture of [Stuyvesant] itself makes it physically impossible to create a new space. However, [the SU] has looked into the reutilization of other spaces,” Lee said. According to Lee, the current, most feasible solution is to turn the staff restrooms on multiple floors into gender-neutral bathrooms. While I agree with this solution, I believe that it can be taken one step further. The first floor bathrooms are closed off to students and are treated as an accommodation for the community center at Stuyvesant. These bathrooms should be opened to students to be used as multi-stalled gender neutral bathrooms during the school day. In addition, the administration should redirect resources for the future into working around the architectural challenges so that new gender neutral bathrooms can eventually be constructed. While this effort cannot be implemented right away, it is an initiative that the administration can work on over the years to contribute to a legacy of inclusivity for future students of Stuyvesant.
The addition of more gender neutral bathrooms can make changing for physical education more convenient for gender non-conforming students as well, but this problem can be further addressed by the introduction of a gender neutral locker room. “There is currently a locker room used by visiting sports teams that come to [Stuyvesant] for games, and during school hours, it’s practically not in use,” Lee pointed out. There is a possibility that this locker room can be opened up during school hours as a gender neutral locker room to create a safe space where gender non-conforming students can change. The administration should implement this simple solution as soon as possible.
Even beyond creating more gender neutral bathrooms and a gender neutral locker room, many changes can be made to allow for gender non-conforming students to feel more secure about disclosing their pronouns to teachers and staff so that they do not have to experience being misgendered. This year, only one of my teachers asked for students’ pronouns at the beginning of the semester, showing that many teachers have, intentionally or unintentionally, not respected students’ pronouns nor recognized the identities of students who do not use binary (he/him or she/her) pronouns. This situation could be improved by mandating teachers to send out a Google Form at the beginning of the semester that asks students for the names they would like to be called and their pronouns. Another way that the Student Union can help is by distributing pronoun stickers/buttons that students can wear to let staff and students know their pronouns in a manner that does not seem as confrontational. These efforts can make non-binary students feel safer about openly discussing their pronouns.
The SU has made progress in pushing for gender neutral bathrooms, and as a gender non-conforming student, seeing this progress has made me immensely happy. However, more measures need to be taken so Stuyvesant can become a more inclusive environment for all students.