Meet the instructor behind Douglas College’s gender-neutral washrooms

By Marie Del Cid-Luque, Marketing and Communications

Jaime Yard is on a mission to spread gender awareness across Douglas College. For starters, the Cultural Anthropology professor wants to get people to think more openly about inclusive spaces and how the world around us can play a part in promoting gender equity.

“All around us we see gendered work places, gendered family roles, gendered fields of study, and, as an anthropologist, there’s this talk about trying to pay attention to not only what people say, but also what people do,” says Jaime. “Being a person in the world, you can’t help but notice the differences between what we say about gender and what we’re actually doing and making possible on an everyday basis in everyday spaces.”

Jaime explains that as a society, we talk a big game about being inclusive and accepting of non- conventional gendered roles, however, we don’t always practise what we preach.

“We know if you’re a female going into a STEM field, for example, you’re going to find fewer people who look like you in mentorship roles and in your classes. You might face more hesitance to your ideas in group work, or more questions about your knowledge and performance because of longstanding cultural biases that encouraged more men than women to pursue STEM careers,” says Jaime. “So, thinking about gender, we confront a difference between how the world actually is and the hopeful messages saying you can be whatever you want to be. If we don’t think critically about the challenges and constraints people actually face, we aren’t setting people up to succeed.”

A gender-neutral washroom sign at Douglas College
Jaime and her students noted the lack of accessible and inclusive washroom facilities around the College.

Building inclusive spaces

Jaime says we need to start thinking more critically by asking ourselves, “what are some of the more insidious ways in which things are gendered?” This kind of thinking is what gave way for Jaime and her Anthropology of Gender and Sexuality class to begin the conversation about converting single-stall washrooms at Douglas to gender-neutral washrooms. Her class conducted a social and spatial audit of College facilities a few years ago to determine how accessible and inclusive the Campus was for non-binary and transgender students.

“One of the most basic equity issues in any work place is ensuring that people’s basic biological needs are met, and students overwhelmingly noted that the washroom facilities were inadequate,” says Jaime.

Jaime notes that gender-neutral single-stall washrooms meet a wide range of on-campus needs: for a parent with a small child who is potty training or for a diabetic student who needs a private space to administer their insulin.

“There are many different reasons why a person might need a closed space on campus. We might not have the same reasons, but it’s the same need for a space to attend to private matters,” says Jaime.

Visit the Anthropology page for more information regarding our program.

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