When Joan Marin-Romero dreaded living in her freshman dorm at the University of St. Thomas, she didn’t tell anyone. That’s because Marin-Romero was born a male and identifies as a trans-woman, but was assigned to a boys residence hall.
“Both of my roommates were pretty trans-phobic,” recalled Marin-Romero. “A lot of times I did hear those off-handed comments that didn’t make me feel so great.” She added that her former roommate also made her uncomfortable with hurtful anti-transgender posts on social media.
At first, Marin-Romero struggled finding inclusive spaces and communities when she moved to Saint Paul from her home state of Florida. She didn’t even visit the campus before deciding to attend. It would take her a couple of years to discover a support network. And it got worse before it eventually got better.
Marin-Romero’s challenges extend outside the dorm hall. She says her classroom buildings could be more inclusive, too. When she’s sitting in class and needs to use the restroom, she’d prefer to use a single-stall bathroom. But they’re not too easy to locate. She says she has to go out of her way to reach one.
She says it’s “like a 10-minute walk,” a distance that can be quite disruptive during a 50-minute class period.
For Marin-Romero, it’s also an issue of safety.
“There’s none (single-stall bathrooms) in the student center … I spend a lot of time there,” Marin-Romero said. “I was really scared to go into public bathrooms. Single-restroom public bathrooms really helped out quite a lot. I don’t think other students would pay attention or really care as much. For me, it was quite important because I didn’t feel safe.”
Marin-Romero’s classmate, Abby, who withheld her last name, says access to safe and public restrooms, regardless of someone’s orientation, is a necessary step the campus must take toward inclusivity.
“You can’t only support us when bad things happen, you need to be supportive before,” said Abby, a St. Thomas senior majoring in neuroscience. “Giving us a place to pee is like minimal step one—it’s not even supporting us, it’s like our basic human right.”
Abby and Marin-Romero are members of the Queer Straight Alliance (QSA) at St. Thomas. QSA’s mission is to foster respect and equality for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex, pansexual, asexual, gender nonconforming, nonbinary, plus individuals and supporters within the St. Thomas community.
Abby served as the 2017-18 QSA president and during their time worked with other members of the group and university officials to take a big step forward in considering the needs of LGBTQ+ community members.
“We got it verbally and in writing that all new constructions of buildings will have gender-inclusive bathrooms,” Abby said.
University of St. Thomas Associate Vice President for Facilities Jim Brummer says the university is continuing to listen to student needs.
“Making sure, especially when we build new buildings, it’s [gender-inclusive bathrooms] part of the upfront discussion … and it carries through all the way up to the design so it’s really making sure we are accounting for that in the construction and, whenever possible, incorporating those into renovations or taking single-stall users as men’s or women’s restrooms and redefine as gender-neutral or nonspecific restrooms,” Brummer said.
Abby, who identifies as gay and nonbinary, says it will make a difference.
“We need gender-inclusive restrooms because simply male and female restrooms aren’t the restrooms for me and it’s important that I have a space on campus that I just feel safe to pee in,” Abby said.
Marin-Romero is now a senior. She says she’s glad she found QSA and hopes with the forthcoming additions future members of the St. Thomas community find the campus more inclusive and welcoming than her experience as a freshman.