More “safe” spaces and ethnic studies are being considered for Central Penn
By Yuliani Sutedjo
Knightly News Reporter
Knightly News Co-adviser
After three and a half years of discussion and research, Central Penn College recently installed a gender-neutral restroom to expand inclusiveness and diversity on campus.
The gender-neutral restroom is one of four among significant campus inclusivity initiatives the committee has been working on recently.
- Accommodates the personal needs of transgender people.
- Recognizes the views of people who do not identify with a gender.
- Provides families of any gender composition a restroom for more than one member to use at the same time.
“It wasn’t just my idea, but also the Diversity Committee, who wanted to improve the school and look to open another safe space for inclusion and diversity,” said Romeo Azondekon, chief diversity officer, of the gender-neutral restroom.
The Diversity Committee consists of Central Penn faculty and staff members, and usually has a student representative.
Initiative 1 – easier equal access
The first initiative was to make doors at Central Penn accessible for people with a condition or illness that prevents them from opening doors without some assistance.
Automatic door-opening buttons were installed in the Advanced Technology Education Center (ATEC) in the second half of last year.
Previously, the doors were operated remotely by someone inside ATEC at the reception desk.
Initiative 2 – the gender-neutral restroom
Azondekon said the gender-neutral restroom was created not because there was a problem, but because such an accommodation is a part of Central Penn’s commitment to inclusion and diversity.
“We believe in inclusiveness and diversities,” Azondekon said.
Personnel from Central Penn’s Facilities Department converted the men’s restroom on the second floor of ATEC into the gender-neutral restroom, which includes two urinals in stalls for privacy, and two toilets in stalls.
A black-on-gray sign outside the restroom says “Gender Neutral” in English and in Braille, and features silhouettes with clothing shapes that traditionally have represented a woman and a man, and one with half-male and half-female traditional clothing attributes, suggesting transgender individuals.
The room is also accessible to people in wheelchairs and with limited walking ability.
The ATEC facility is in addition to two nongender-designated and handicapped-accessible restrooms in the Charles “T.” Jones Leadership Library. All restrooms in ATEC are handicapped-accessible.
The Health Sciences Building has a designated men’s room, women’s room and nongender-designated restroom, though it is not labeled “gender neutral,” according to Dr. Krista Wolfe, dean of the School of Nursing and Health Sciences.
The difference between gender-neutral and other nongender-designated restrooms is that the former are for people of any gender identification and the latter are generally for anyone to use one person at a time, or for family members to use together, such as when a parent or guardian is with a child who requires adult supervision or assistance.
Azondekon said the Diversity Committee hopes more gender-neutral restrooms will be established on campus.
“(We’re considering) at least one gender neutral restroom in each education building,” he explained.
The campus has a gender-neutral Super Suite, according to Title IX Officer Megan Peterson, who until recently was director of residence life. The unit is one of three themed residences to which students who qualify must apply to live. The others are for Lady Knight basketball players and one for the alumni association, of which current students can be members.
Initiative 3 – ethnic studies
Committee members are working on the third initiative, establishing an ethnic studies program.
“We’d like to have an ethnic studies track at some point,” said Maria James-Thiaw, professor of writing and a member of the Diversity Committee. “It’s something for the future, to better prepare students for the diverse workplaces and world they’ll be entering.”
When such a program would debut at Central Penn is not known.
Initiative 4 – a place to worship
Another project the Diversity Committee is working on is establishing an interfaith/nonfaith-specific prayer room, or other type of space where students can pray, meditate or engage in whatever reflective practice or ritual they choose.
“Some students expressed a desire to have a place where they can contemplate, or formally pray, that is private and quiet,” said Michael Lear-Olimpi, assistant professor of communication and a member of the Diversity Committee. “We have limited space on campus, and members of the committee and Mr. Azondekon have been talking with college officials, staff and faculty about where this space could be.”
Options that have been explored include sharing space with the campus courtroom, providing space in the library, and perhaps cordoning off space in campus housing. Each of these possibilities did not work out, though, because use of the proposed spots was heavier than widely known.
When a prayer space will open for use, or what it will be called or where it will be located, has yet to be determined. Azondekon said the search for a space continues.
“We need one,” he said. “It is important to people who want that.”
Change can take time
The gender-neutral restroom in ATEC was set up relatively quickly, because it involved modest alterations.
Other initiatives, such as establishing the prayer room, can take time because of specific logistics challenges, such as finding an appropriate place on a small campus.
“These initiatives are being discussed properly, and thought out thoroughly,” Azondekon said.
To comment on this story or to suggest one, contact KnightlyEditors@Centralpenn.edu.
Edited by Media Club Co-adviser Prof. Michael Lear-Olimpi.