Winona State University has been undergoing a few changes lately.
Students entering the Smaug these past few weeks have had to go a little out of the way to squeeze by the construction project edging into the walkway. Workers are busy installing a gender-neutral bathroom where there once was a janitor’s closet.
Though relatively small—just a one-stall room—the new bathroom represents a victory for diverse groups on campus, particularly members of the trans community who often struggle with bathrooms divided by a strict gender binary.
Many students were not even certain what the new room was going to be, let alone how it came to be built. But in reality, this room is a result of weeks of campaigning, going before student senate and rallying behind a common need for a bathroom in Kryzsko that literally everyone can use.
But so far, it is still just a construction project. “I have no idea when it’s going to be done,” said a worker on site.
Across campus, on the second floor of Wabasha Hall, the Winona State Diversity Center draws near completion.
This safe space for students of all backgrounds, orientations and colors was long sought and obtained by a coalition of students by putting on a series of awareness-raising demonstrations. The space in Wabasha is meant to be a temporary arrangement until a site can be secured in Kryzsko Commons.
Exactly when that will happen, however, is yet to be determined.
And Wednesday, Feb. 13, at the Darrell Krueger Library, that week’s Athenaeum presentation, “Building and Supporting a Diverse WSU,” brought five panelists and an audience of students, professors and administrators together—to continue a conversation that started in October of last semester.
At the Diversity Summit last fall, over 200 students and staff assembled to address Winona State’s diversity as a college and a community.
“The summit allowed us to take a look at where we are, but also to hear from diverse students, and support them,” said panelist Tamara Berg, a professor in the women and gender studies department.
Berg said that the goal of the summit was to find ways to “enrich, increase and honor” diversity at Winona State. The summit assembled in response to a self-study conducted for the Higher Learning Commission, which indicated that while Winona State has made a real effort to foster and support diversity, as is always the case, there is still work to be done.
Ever since the summit, each of the panelists and many of the other professors in attendance have continued to meet as a diversity task force.
Their mission: to make the changes Winona State’s diverse students wanted to see, and make Winona State and the surrounding community an even better place for all kinds of people; “Because we live in a diverse world,” said panelist Joan Francioni. “These efforts,” added panelist and Vice President of student life Connie Gores, “are a long time in coming.”
But they are indeed “coming.”
The addition of the gender-neutral bathroom and the Diversity Center are just a few examples of the efforts made by students and by the Diversity Summit Task Force to make the dream of a more diverse Winona State a reality.
The Diversity Task Force is even making an advance in cyberspace, presenting the draft version of their new website. Other initiatives are in the works to add diversity to Winona State’s faculty, and to the surrounding community.
Change is often a slow, painstaking process. The fight for better inclusion and diversity at Winona State has been a long one, and the end is nowhere in sight yet.
Whit Parlow, a student who was on the committee to obtain the gender-neutral bathrooms, commented that even though a bathroom is being installed, the project isn’t a total victory.
Originally, the students had requested a multi-stall bathroom, but space constraints reduced it to a single-stall room. On top of that, Parlow commented that the bathroom, rather than bringing diverse students together, has also been the subject of controversy and heated debate online. Students have made remarks about “that money could be used on other stuff that the school needs..not more bathrooms,” and that they “didn’t even know we even had trans students at Winona State.”
“While it is a step in the right direction, it’s not the step we were looking for,” said Parlow.
Reaching a point where everyone can feel completely included, tolerated, and even safe on campus will take a campaign much longer than a few months. But, each addition, each change, is a sign of progress. That’s why the Diversity Task Force will continue to meet, to work, and to listen to each unique student’s needs.
“It’s a follow up,” said Berg of the Athenaeum presentation. “And, it’s a path forward.”
Winona State, a school of various races, ethnicities, religions, educational and economic backgrounds, sexual orientations, gender identities, thoughts, ideas and people, will keep moving forward, but only time will tell what the future may bring.
Contact Hannah at [email protected]