On Gender-Neutral Bathrooms at Columbia

[Content warning: Transphobia]

We were horrified to learn that several dorms at Columbia had residents vote on whether or not to make dorm bathrooms gender-neutral, as opposed to having Columbia create gender-neutral bathrooms of its own accord.

Gender-neutral bathrooms can be a necessary, lifesaving resource for trans and gender nonconforming students. Trans and gender nonconforming people face significant risks when entering binary public restrooms, with an estimated 12% experiencing verbal harassment and 2% experiencing sexual or physical violence in the year prior to being surveyed. Further, binary restrooms force students to choose one of two gender identities, neither of which reflect the identity of many gender nonconforming students on campus.

Gender-neutral bathrooms give trans and gender nonconforming students the option to use a restroom without having to choose a binary gender identity, and make bathrooms safer and more accepting by clearly stating they are for everyone to use. Rather than provide this resource in every dorm, Columbia has chosen to leave it up to students, the majority of whom have never needed gender-neutral bathrooms, to decide whether trans and gender nonconforming students deserve this valuable resource. Disappointingly, several dorm floors ended up denying their occupants gender neutral bathrooms, leaving trans and gender nonconforming students to choose a binary gender identity or move out of their dorm rooms entirely. Forcing students to make this choice and subjecting them to the hate and harassment they often face as a consequence is inhumane and unfair.

Columbia has a duty to ensure all students are treated with dignity and respect. Allowing residents to vote on whether or not they feel “safe” with gender neutral bathrooms — a question that implies cisgender students would be put at risk by making bathrooms gender-neutral — is contrary to that, shocking, and sending a dangerous message about the humanity of trans and gender nonconforming students.

As a group that advocates for survivors of sexual violence, we refuse to let an abstract, baseless “threat” of gender-based violence be a scapegoat for blatant transphobia. We fully endorse creating gender-neutral bathrooms in all campus dorms, and object to the humanity of our trans and gender nonconforming classmates becoming a ballot item.

SAAFE Protest Demands

Want to support these demands? Sign our petition!

October 28, 2015

To the Columbia Administration:

Despite the recent update to the Gender-Based Misconduct Policy and the new Sexual Respect Initiative, survivors on this campus continue to feel unsafe, retraumatized and failed by the administrators that are supposed to support them. To ensure this is an inclusive educational environment and everyone can thrive, regardless of identity (including but not limited to race, sex, gender, sexual orientation, socioeconomic status, immigration status, and religion), we demand the following changes:


  • Increase culturally responsive mental health services and trauma response staff by requiring the Safe Zone Training offered by the Office of Multicultural Affairs and trainings addressing other issues of including, but not limited to, race and class.
  • Have professional staffing at a Rape Crisis Center on campus 24/7.
  • Allow students to have both moral and legal support throughout the reporting and adjudication process. Students should not have to choose between having a loved one or lawyer by their side.
  • Remove the exception for GBM that requires the Office of Disability Services, Health Services, and all other normally confidential services to report cases of GBM. Survivors should be able to request accommodations without triggering an investigation.
  • Educate all first-responders to be culturally sensitive and aware of resources on campus, including  immediate support to feel safe navigating campus, STI testing and reporting options.


  • Revise the policy language to remove unnecessarily complex and inaccessible legal jargon. The policy’s language should be clear and easily understood by any student.
  • Provide students, especially those who cannot afford an attorney advisor, with more options for legal representation, such as alumni, members of the campus legal community or other volunteer attorneys.
  • Make aggregate data about processes available to all students, including instances of repeat offenders and specific information about accommodations granted.
  • Revise policy language to clarify procedures for requesting academic and other interim and post accommodations and grant students more agency over academic and other accommodations by:
  • Removing the Student Conduct and Community Standards Office from the decision-making process around academic accommodations, such as exam extensions and course withdrawals.
  • Allowing for increased coordination between the Office of Gender-Based Misconduct, Disability Services and the various CU schools to increase access to accommodations for student survivors. Academic accommodations should be handled by same university offices that handle these issues in other, non-sexual misconduct contexts.


  • Allow a wide variety of students to be consistently involved in the revision and oversight of campus policies and programs.  
  • Revise Clery Crime Alert protocols to include information about on-going threats posed by university-affiliated individuals. Additionally, revise language of the alerts to include trigger warnings and replace victim blaming “tips” with resources for survivors.  
  • Explicitly recognize students’ right to record all interviews and meetings with Student Conduct and Community Standards staff to ensure the accuracy of all parties’ accounts and the legitimacy of the overall process.
  • Increase transparency around employee training and qualifications, especially for legally mandated reporters, GBM investigators, and hearing panelists.
  • Establish a feedback mechanism that allows students to share their experiences with Columbia’s prevention programs, resources and adjudication processes. This survey should be widely publicized and received by an independent body that does not control any of the previously mentioned programs, potentially composed of faculty, to avoid further conflict of interest.


  • Increase the number of investigators and case managers to ensure appropriate responses to conflicts of interest requests. For example, a student should never be reassigned to his or her alleged assailant’s case manager after submitting a conflict of interest request.
  • Make the SVR peer advocate and peer educator jobs paid positions of at least $15/hour to reflect their value in our community and increase accessibility for low-income students.
  • Fund mental and physical health services so survivors don’t have to face weeks of wait times.
  • Institute and publicize regular support groups for survivors of varying kinds of violence.


  • Clarify enforcement mechanisms to ensure the policy works as written.
  • Remove conflict of interest from adjudication by appointing objective administrators or faculty.
  • Include a process for the investigation and removal of investigators, case managers and other employees, who fail to adequately and appropriately carry out their duties on behalf of survivors.
  • Create and require more robust prevention programs with professional oversight to ensure all students participate in a meaningful way.
  • Allow students to file an anonymous report so it can be counted in Clery Crime Statistics without initiating an investigation process.


No Red Tape, The Black Law Students Association, Empowering Women of Color, GSAS Students of Color Alliance, Take Back the Night, The Latino/a Law Students Association, Columbia Law School’s Domestic Violence Project, Students for Justice in Palestine, International Socialist Organization, Student Worker Solidarity, Jewish Voice for Peace, Columbia Women’s Rugby, Columbia Queer Alliance, Coalition Against Sexual Violence, Columbia Law Feminist Society