UC Berkeley first in system to offer large-scale, gender-inclusive locker rooms

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Students who don’t feel comfortable changing in locker rooms that don't match how they feel inside will soon have a new place to change their clothes and use the restroom at the University of California at Berkeley.

Come spring, UC Berkeley will begin punching out space between the men's and women's locker rooms in the Recreational Sports Facility  to create the public university system’s first  $2.7-million “gender-inclusive” locker room. San Francisco State has a smaller gender-inclusive shower area, which will be dwarfed by the size of Cal's new space. The 4,500-square-foot locker room should be open in fall of 2018.

What will set the locker room apart is more privacy and partitions in between the changing space. In the past, students who didn't feel comfortable in either the men's or women's locker rooms would ask staff members to borrow their private changing space.

Conservatives, including Milo Yiannopoulos, a right-wing editor whose speech at Cal was canceled  in February amidst a controversial firestorm fired off on his website that this was the school's "latest in gender-neutral hysteria." Cal student Naweed Tahmas, 20, a junior who is also a member of the Berkeley College Republicans, also doesn't like the idea. "For one thing, it's a waste of money," he told KTVU Thursday in a phone interview. "Why waste this money on a locker room that serves only a small percentage of students?" He added the school could use the extra space on campus for study areas and spots for clubs to meet in.

But many otherrs on campus said the concept was a good one.

“If we have such high standards for academics and athletic achievement,” then Cal should also offer high standards for inclusiveness, Mariah Cumming told KTVU.

“Obviously some people don’t feel safe in the locker room,” Riley Hibbs added, “and by doing this, it will make this an inclusive place and everyone will feel safe.”

In a statement, the university said, “Participation in recreation and wellness activities can have a profound impact on a students’ collegiate experience - helping to reduce stress, increase self-confidence and build a strong sense of community. Through this initiative Recreational Sports will take a crucial step forward in reducing the barriers to wellness for often marginalized student and campus communities including trans and non-gender binary students, students with disabilities or anyone seeking additional privacy.”

Anyone is welcome to use the locker room.

The idea for the locker room came after an April 2015 vote by students who wanted to increase their registration fees by $54 per student per semester to provide further opportunities to health and wellness initiatives across campus, the university said. 

Outgoing president of the Associated Students of University California, Will Morrow, helped draft and present the proposal to campus leadership.

"This locker room project not only symbolically affirms our campus values of inclusivity and access for all, but it provides a tangible service for students who are currently being underserved. At the core of this project is a commitment to student holistic wellness-physical, mental, and emotional. In providing a safe and inclusive changing space, the RSF is adapting to better serve the wellness of all members of our campus community," Will said in a statement.

Similarly non-gendered changing rooms and showers were built in 2014 as part of the Stadium Fitness Center, and designed to provide recreation activities for students with physical, mental or implied disabilities.

KTVU's Lisa Fernandez and Allie Rasmus contributed to this report.