Swarthmore Queer Union Reorganizes, Takes Aim at Expanding Gender-Neutral Bathrooms

On Tuesday, Feb. 4, Swarthmore Queer Union hosted its first meeting of the academic year, reviving the organization after a semester-long hiatus. SQU’s new board is looking to expand and re-establish the organization as Swarthmore’s main group for queer and LGBT+ students. 

The group was restarted by Hussain Zaidi ’22, who brought members from the previous board together and began making plans for the new semester. 

Over thirty people attended the meeting, exceeding expectations. During the meeting, Zaidi and Ray Sidener ’21 introduced the club’s leadership and laid out some of SQU’s goals for the semester. Then, leadership broke the attendees into three groups. Each group discussed what they would like to see from the organization, including norms, goals, and event ideas. 

Many attendees of the meeting were optimistic about the future of the group. First-year Ramiro Hernandez ‘23 said that he thought that the group was welcoming and was glad to be a part of an organization that made space for queer Swarthmore students.

“I’m looking forward to just being in a group for just queer people, [where] I don’t have to worry about anything else,” Hernadez said.

Hernadez was also optimistic about the group’s leadership. 

“They [the board] are really passionate about it. And I could tell that about all of that from seeing them talk and just having conversations with them,” he said.

Rachel Hechinger ‘20 said that despite being a senior, they had never attended a SQU meeting. 

“I didn’t necessarily … know that many people in the group,” they said. “I didn’t know whether it would feel kind of like I was an outsider.”  

Rather than feeling like an outsider, Hechinger said that they planned to go to more meetings.

Students also noted that the turnout was larger and more engaged than expected. 

“I am very surprised with the turnout, like what it was. I’m also really surprised that the people who showed up didn’t just grab food and leave,” Chase Smith ’22 said. “This happens a lot with different identity-based groups … people who … do not identify within that community go and take food and then leave … I’ve seen that happen a lot and it didn’t happen as much as I thought it would.”

Associate Director of Gender and Sexuality Initiatives, Tiffany Thompson, is providing support for the group as part of her work in the Intercultural Center. 

“I [serve] as an advocate and support for the SQU board. This includes helping plan events, troubleshooting issues, promoting SQU events, and connecting SQU to LGBTQ+ conversations across campus,” she said.

In order to best serve the community, SQU is looking to take an intersectional approach. One way SQU plans to do this is by expanding their board. 

“SQU plans to expand their board [to] be more inclusive and representative of the student population, allowing for more opportunities for folks to feel supported,” Thompson said.

SQU members echoed the need for intersectionality within the group. 

“I just want people to be in a community where intersectionality is not only respected, but also uplifted,” Smith said.

Smith also said that they think it would be good for SQU to take on a couple of projects that the group could focus on accomplishing. One of those projects is already in its early stages, as the group’s hopes to expand gender neutral bathrooms on campus. Levi Hatten ‘22, a member of SQU’s board, had been pursuing the project on his own. Hatten has been meeting with administrators and has said he received positive feedback on the project. The project, however, is in the early stages, and is too large for just one person to undertake.

“I was in a rut about what to do with bathrooms, I was pretty overwhelmed to do it all by myself and the idea of a student group, and like, just even like four other people who could help me was so much better than thinking about doing it all,” Hatten said. 

The group’s revival came at an opportune time, and group leaders saw Hatten’s project as something that SQU could get involved in. 

“Hussain came up to me and was like ‘Hey, we heard about your bathroom project. I am reviving SQU and I want to help you,’ basically,” Hatten said. 

Adding more gender neutral bathrooms to campus would require the college to spend a significant amount of money to retrofit existing bathrooms and complete construction projects. Hatten believes that this fits into the “vital spaces” portion of the college’s Changing Lives, Changing the World campaign. 

“Advancement’s current campaign is ‘Changing Lives, Changing the World.’ And one of the three things is ‘creating vital spaces.’ And this completely obviously feels like something that [the college] should be doing,” said Hatten. 

Funding for the project would have to be approved by the Board of Managers. There are also other capital project plans. Hatten said that he just hoped to get gender-neutral bathrooms in line for capital funding, but that there is potential for the college to push the bathroom project to the front.

“It’s one thing to get this as a capital project on to the board’s radar, but another thing to get it pushed before so many other projects,” said Hatten.

Associate Vice President for Sustainable Facilities Operation and Capital Planning, Andy Feick, said that the college is striving to meet the needs of students who are pushing for gender neutral bathrooms while also complying with plumbing and accessibility requirements. 

“The college takes restroom access for all genders seriously and we have made these provisions wherever possible during recent renovations. … we continue to engage and learn about what is desirable for a gender-neutral restroom and we strive to provide those restrooms wherever possible,” Feick said. 

Feick also noted that renovating existing bathrooms has practical and legal constraints, but that funding can come from a variety of sources. 

“In a renovation, designers and constructors are already confined by the building size and the confines of adjacent spaces. This is especially challenging for buildings constructed prior to the implementation of the 1991 Americans with Disabilities Act. Many of our campus buildings pre-date 1991. What that means in practice is that with any significant building renovation we are required by law to first meet ADA requirements and plumbing codes … which often puts pressure on also maintaining the required number of fixtures needed to meet plumbing code,” Feick said.  

“College construction and renovation is part of the institution’s capital program. The capital program is funded from a variety of sources including endowment proceeds, donor gifts and borrowing. Construction or renovation that creates gender-neutral restrooms comes from all of those sources,” said Feick. 

SQU meets every Tuesday in the Intercultural Center big room at 6 p.m. 

Laura Wagner

Laura '20 is from Dover, Delaware. She is in the honors program studying political science and economics. Outside of the classroom and the newsroom, her interests include running, politics, and really good books.

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