Student Pioneers for Transgender Rights
By Kristen Maikoo
It started with a class project and a drive for change. Junior Mikaella Bruce, known to most as Bruce, became interested in establishing gender neutral restrooms on Salem’s campus and began the process during her Not-For-Profit Management course last year.
After learning the basics of public policy and community organizing in the Public Policy, Advocacy and and Grassroots Organizing course, Bruce was motivated by issues that were discussed in her other classes. “In other classes, I’ve learned a lot about discrimination and violence against trans people or people who are non-gender conforming in larger society. That really struck a chord with me,” said Bruce.
Bruce aimed to establish five single-stall restrooms on campus as gender neutral. The two
near the Drama Workshop in the Elberson Fine Arts Center, the two in the history wing of Main Hall, and the two on the lower level of the Refectory are the ones that Bruce is currently working to change. Of the single-stall restrooms on the first floor of the Refectory, Bruce noticed that, “If this one’s a family restroom and this one’s a women’s then that means that that family restroom becomes basically the men’s room so it’s still excluding someone. A single stall restroom, it doesn’t matter who’s in there, it just matters that people can access it,” said Bruce.
“Even though there’s not violence or discrimination [here at Salem]…it’s still an important ideological step to show that people who are gender non-conforming are accepted on this campus. I thought that that was an important step,” said Bruce.
Bruce did initial research and walked through the entirety of campus one afternoon and took pictures of all of the restrooms and signage to better understand their layout and accessibility. “I’m someone who has to pee one-hundred percent of the time so I already know a lot about our bathrooms on campus and the state of them,” she laughs.
During the spring semester of 2015, Bruce set up a table in the Refectory to promote awareness about her project and why it was necessary. The sign read, “‘Who gives a poop about gender neutral restrooms?’ and it had the little poop emoji on there.” She gave out bookmarks listing which bathrooms on campus were either unmarked or already gender neutral.
Bruce’s project came to the attention of the Student Government Association (SGA) when Bruce submitted a card for What Do You Want Wednesdays. When Megan Cook, SGA president, heard of Mikaella Bruce’s project, she met with Bruce and together they met with Anna Gallimore, Director of Administration.
After the construction of buildings, Gallimore arranged to have the signs changed on the restrooms around campus, including two on the first floor of McHugh Sisters Flats.
“When planning for new construction or renovation, Salem works with the local building inspector, contractor and architect to determine the number of restrooms and how they may be designated,” says Gallimore. North Carolina Building construction codes require that certain buildings have one men’s and one women’s bathroom.
“Female students have always used men’s restrooms because of the population,” Gallimore remarks. Regarding the two in the Flats, for example, she says, “We have two restrooms that meet the needs of all individuals.”
“Even though it started as a project for a class, this year I’m still taking it on to make sure those changes get made,” says Bruce. As the process is still ongoing, “Not all of the restrooms that could be gender neutral on campus are gender neutral yet.”
Bruce is living proof that with enough determination and hardwork, it only takes one person to make a change.