SOU pushes measures for gender-neutral campus

University continues to make changes to reduce gender differentiation, and students like it
Southern Oregon University's recent push to become more gender-neutral is a welcome change for Amiko-Gabriel Stocking, 27, who chooses not to identify with a gender of male or female.Mail Tribune / Jamie Lusch

Kevin Tomita says that in his four years at Southern Oregon University, he has noticed a sizeable effort by administrators to make the campus more gender-neutral.

"I noticed a really large push, actually," said Tomita, referring to more than a dozen gender-neutral bathrooms installed across campus since his freshman year.

Tomita, who works as a staff manager at the campus' Queer Resource Center, said the school's administration has been very supportive of the QRC's ideas.

"As a whole, I think this is a really accepting school," said Tomita. "And the administration are really supportive."

At least 15 gender-neutral bathrooms were created over the past few years, either by changing the signs on the doors or by gutting old bathrooms and reconstructing them, such as in the gender-neutral floor of Diamond Hall in the Cascade dorm complex.

The school spent $45,000 in fall 2009 to convert the open floor plan of the former women's restrooms into four separated, locking bathroom and shower rooms.

Diamond Hall, the first gender-neutral hall on campus, received a fairly warm welcome from the campus community, except for one incident of graffiti.

In spring 2010, two male SOU students were arrested after scrawling homophobic graffiti with markers on the walls of the gender-neutral floor.

The students later apologized for their actions, saying they didn't know they were on a gender-neutral floor and didn't intend to victimize anyone.

The changes across campus — particularly the bathrooms — were a welcome addition for Amiko-Gabriel Stocking, a student who chooses not to identify with a gender of male or female.

"I got kicked out of men's and women's bathrooms before," said Stocking, who said it is a huge relief to feel comfortable in a bathroom.

"I certainly became less anxious about my own gender identity," said Stocking, 27. "I create my gender as I go."

Stocking said various other cultures allow people to identify with one of as many as seven different genders.

"Sometimes gender in other cultures has taken on a spiritual role," said Stocking. "Gender varies across the globe."

Stocking, who is finishing a major in human communication and sociology this year, is working on a senior project to create a gender-inclusive training manual for the Lotus Rising Project, a youth-led social justice organization in Southern Oregon.

The manual describes gender-inclusive language that encourages people to focus on an individual rather than gender, omitting words such as "he" or "him" whenever possible.

Stocking also is completing a minor in gender, sexuality and women's studies, a program that evolved from the school's women's studies program last year.

As of fall 2010, the women's studies program was renamed after more than a year of discussion with students, faculty and staff.

"I was definitely for it, as I think the majority was," said Tomita, who took the program's introductory course from Professor Barbara Winkler.

Currently, students can receive a minor in gender, sexuality and women's studies but can pursue it as a major only if they form an independent interdisciplinary major with Winkler, the program's coordinator.

In addition to studying gender, Stocking chooses to use gender-inclusive pronouns, rather than traditional "he" or "she" when writing academic papers.

Ultimately, Stocking hopes education about gender-inclusiveness will allow people to accept their own identity more readily and more unity will lead to less potential violence.

"I don't want to get rid of gender," said Stocking. "I want to celebrate people's identities."

Stocking said the campus has done a great job evolving to be more accepting of various genders, but could still improve.

"SOU is always moving forward, but there's always room for improvement," Stocking said. "I think SOU gets it."

Reach reporter Teresa Ristow at 541-776-4459 or tristow@mailtribune.com.



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