The Arts Barn bathrooms were the last ones built on the campus (2014), yet they were the only ones that were multiple occupancies and gendered. In response to Vermont State legislation H.333 (effective in 2018), which required all single occupancy restrooms to be labeled gender neutral, Hilltop reviewed our campus restrooms and updated the signs. These changes brought the Arts Barn restrooms to the attention of the Equity and Anti-Bias Workgroup.
The Equity and Anti-Bias Workgroup (E+AB) is composed of parents, staff, Board members, and Middle School students, and has met regularly to reviewHilltop’s operations through the equity and anti-bias lens, identify areas for improvement, assess progress, and provide actionable recommendations directly to the Head of School or the Board of Trustees. At the prompting of the Middle School students involved in the E+AB Workgroup, in 2019, we began designing and implementing improvements to our campus restrooms. The initial request was to have menstrual products available in all the restrooms used by elementary and middle school students. Cabinets were installed over all the toilets and these products were maintained in the Arts Barn, Primary School Elementary wing, and Middle School. Then, the Middle School students voiced concern about the Arts Barn restrooms being labeled as Women and Men, which was seens a non-inclusive to trans and nonbinary people. Staff and students shared examples of Hilltop Community members and guests experiencing distress about having to publicly proclaim a binary gender when using the bathrooms in the Arts Barn. It was noted that community organizations using our facilities had used temporary gender neutral signs to accommodate the participants of their events. As a stop gap measure, signage was added to the Arts Barn restrooms affirming Hilltops policy that persons could use whichever restroom was congruent with their gender identity; we got to work ensuring our community members that did not identify with a binary gender would have an option in the near future.
The restroom renovation developed through conversations with staff, students, trustees, parents, and Out in the Open (an LGBTQ+ community organization). It was decided that the space would become one large all-gender bathroom with floor-to-almost ceiling partitions around each stall, and a common area with four sinks, making each “stall” essentially a single-occupancy, fully-enclosed, private bathroom. This would meet the occupancy load of the building for larger events (due to building codes, we would not have been able to make only two single occupancy bathrooms, like you see in the Elementary wing or Middle School building) and the privacy concerns noted by our teachers. The design also ensured we maintained the two ADA compliant stalls, and could add a baby changing station accessible by all caregivers. This building project had been planned to begin Spring 2020, but the Covid construction needs (upgrading our HVAC system and creating more outdoor work spaces) put it to the back burner.
During the summer of 2020, there was an incident of transphobic graffiti in the Arts Barn bathrooms. We announced the incident, and more background on the bathroom project, in an email to our community in August 2020, which can be found here. We never did discover who the perpetrator was. This act, which was a HMS policy violation and in direct opposition of what our school stands for and promotes, drove home the need to continue our anti-bias work. In addressing this issue, we consulted a variety of readings and resources, and added some of these to the Diversity Bookshelf.
In response to COVID requirements of “podded” restrooms, the bathrooms were made into single occupancy, gender-neutral bathrooms (even though one had two stalls and the other a stall and a urinal) when the Upper Elementary was based in the Arts Barn. One main issue raised during this unanticipated “test” period, was that because one of the bathrooms still had a urinal, they did not feel truly gender neutral.
Over the school break this past winter, February 2022, Travis, Kegan, Willie, Jubal, and the Bernbaums (THANK YOU!) were able to complete this project while the school was unoccupied. The outer doors are propped open, giving full visual access from the lobby to the sink area, while the stall walls provide full visual privacy for the person inside the locked toilet stalls. We acknowledge that this is a new, and perhaps uncomfortable, arrangement for many adults used to more gendered space. We have found that most of our students are comfortable with this arrangement and the majority of our MS and UE students in particular feel this non-gendered design better supports our population. Bathroom access is a significat concern for our student population, supported by the fact that bathroom discrimination has significant impacts on the health of our youth (Impact of Bathroom Discrimination on Mental Health Among Transgender and Nonbinary Youth – PubMed (nih.gov)