Buddhist-inspired university adds ‘all gender’ restrooms to Boulder campus

Naropa University in Boulder, Colo.

Naropa University in Boulder, Colo. Wikimedia

Naropa University in Boulder, Colo.Wikimedia

Naropa University in Boulder, Colo.

DENVER — As part of a broad reexamination of restrooms on its campuses, Naropa University has created two “all gender” restrooms at its Nalanda campus in Boulder.

This month, the Buddhist-inspired university converted a men’s room into a single-occupant, all-gender restroom and turned the corresponding women’s room into a multi-stall, all-gender restroom, said Todd Kilburn, Naropa’s chief financial officer.

Signs now hang outside the two doors bearing the phrase “All-gender restroom,” with a toilet replacing the traditional stick-figure depiction of a male or female.

The conversions came after a university committee identified restrooms as a place where students, faculty and staff may feel marginalized, said Debra Bopsie, interim director of diversity and inclusion.

“We are looking at all the ‘isms’ — racism to sexism to heterosexism to gender issues,” she said. “For people who do not identify on the gender binary, as male or female, or they could be transgender, there was not a restroom at Nalanda they could really feel comfortable in.”

The phrase “gender binary” refers to the traditional classification of all people as either male or female, a notion that is being increasingly replaced by a more fluid understanding of gender.

The changes at Nalanda, a building constructed in 1977 and purchased by Naropa in 2000, are the first step in the university’s larger conversation about restrooms. Bopsie said the university is in talks with students, faculty and staff about next steps, including whether to remove gender labels from all restrooms throughout the university.

Bopsie said she did not know how large the transgender or gender non-conforming populations are at Naropa but believes there are “plenty of people who do not live on the binary.”

The school has been pushing students and employees to use a person’s preferred gender pronouns — he, she, they, etc. — if they are comfortable sharing their preferences.

The school is also renovating a building on its Arapahoe campus to create a “cultural identity center” for members of traditionally underrepresented populations and their allies to gather, Bopsie said.

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