Students across campus were surprised on Apr. 27 to see that signs for various single-stall bathrooms across campus no longer read “gender-neutral” as they had for years. Messages began to appear on the school’s email forum, reporting that bathroom signage in the Jane Bancroft Cook Library, Heiser Natural Sciences Complex, Academic Center (ACE) and College Hall had all been altered to remove gender-neutral language. The letters had been scraped off or removed, and students expressed anger and disappointment at the change.
One common thread among several of the Board of Trustee (BOT) members appointed by Gov. Ron DeSantis has been the elimination of “wokeness” on campus and “recapturing” a sense of “classical liberal arts” within the institution. The board made good on its promises to eliminate diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) initiatives on campus by abolishing the Office of Outreach and Inclusive Excellence (OOIE) on Feb. 28. With this in mind, many students have indicated that they feel the change in signage is an insult to the student body. Some have expressed concern about the safety of LGBTQ+ students and staff on campus.
“It is clear that the change of the bathroom signs on campus is an attack on the student body,” first-year Ashton Start told the Catalyst. “Many of the students here are gender non-conforming and taking away the bathroom signs that say ‘gender-neutral’ because it makes the new BOT members and the new president uncomfortable is ridiculous.
“Although the bathrooms will still be accessible for any student, including gender non-conforming students, it provides a great example of how the new BOT members and the new President are choosing to pick fights with the students and trying to change New College,” Start continued.
“I think that it just adds to the new administration’s attempt at stripping the New College identity, showing how little they respect us,” second-year student Kaitlyn Bates said.
The Catalyst attempted to reach out to Physical Plant staff to see who started the initiative for the signage change, but instead received an email from Communications and Marketing that said: “We are in the process of making the bathroom signs throughout campus consistent.” When asked for further information on where the initiative came from, there was no response.
So far under the new administration, two openly LGBTQ+ staff members have been fired without cause. With the causeless firing of Dean of Diversity Yoleidy Rosario-Hernandez and the recent and abrupt dismissal of Associate Dean of Academic Engagement Helene Gold, some community members and outside observers have noticed a pattern to who gets the axe.
In tandem with a slew of anti-LGBTQ+ legislation in Florida, the bathroom signage on campus signals to many students more than a simple facilities update. While signs on the residential side of campus remain unchanged as of this writing, the gap between many current students and the new administration grows ever wider.