Title IX has broadened from being a sports equity law to protecting students from “any type of discrimination based off of sex or gender” says Leighia Fleming, USF’s Title IX Coordinator. This past summer, Fleming’s office received a case which may yet again change Title IX’s role on college campuses.
According to Fleming, the case was brought up by a USF community member who identifies as transgender. The community member noticed that the Koret women’s locker room had separate stalls for each shower for privacy, while the men’s locker room was wide open without stalls. “When it was brought to our attention, it was more of a question at first. The community member was saying ‘I’m concerned, is this an issue?’” said Fleming.
While Fleming could not provide specific details regarding the case, per Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) protections, she did speak about the overall implications of the case.
“We got the report, and we started an inquiry, a lower-level investigation to see, one, does this fall under Title IX? That is always the first question. Is it creating a hostile environment for individuals who are using those spaces? Is there inequity based off of sex or gender? And then what can we do in the interim?” said Fleming.
USF is not the first campus in the country to deal with these questions. San Francisco State University already has a gender-inclusive locker room. UC Berkeley plans on creating a new, $2.7 million facility for fall 2018 that would be gender-inclusive, according to a San Francisco Chronicle article from this past May. In the same article, USF alum Lucas Waldron was interviewed about his own experiences as a transgender man at UC Berkeley, where he recently graduated from their School of Journalism.
“Safety is the biggest concern for me in gendered locker rooms — especially ones without private changing and showering facilities are extremely unsafe for people like me,” said Waldron in the Chronicle article.
So what does USF plan on doing? As Fleming described, some “interim” measures have been put into place. A shower curtain has been installed on the handicap stall in the men’s locker room to provide privacy. There is also a separate bathroom on the pool deck that Koret can be utilized as a pseudo-changing room.
Policy changes are also coming. Until now, Koret staff have not been required to undergo Title IX training, but this will changing soon. “All student Koret staff who work in those spaces [will] go through Title IX training so that they are aware of, if somebody does come forward and says ‘I am uncomfortable with this person, I am uncomfortable with this space,’ they will know how to respond” said Fleming.
But these interim solutions are not the end for the Title IX office. Fleming explained how if USF were to be investigated by the Office for Civil Rights, a sub-agency of the Department of Education, the legal fees could cost the university tens of thousands of dollars if the complaint levied by the community member is not handled properly. This is why Fleming, and others at USF, are pushing for a more long term solution.
Craig Petersen, Director of Operations for Facilities Management, has been in communication with Fleming regarding a possible project that could reshape the Koret men’s locker room.
Donning a Hawaiian shirt and a serious, yet friendly composure, Petersen reflected on the challenges the facilities department faces in regards to the Title IX case. “We can address some issues with quick fixes, but they aren’t the right answer yet” said Petersen. “The Koret facility has not had a significant overhaul in its locker rooms in a long time. Is the locker room fit for purpose in 2017? Or is it still designed for how people worked out and used the rec center thirty years ago?”
In August, Facilities Management, the Title IX office and Koret staff met to brainstorm possible solutions. “I’ll be candid and say I think we all thought we were acting in good faith to come up with a solution. But we kinda took a pause and said, ‘wait a minute, why aren’t we inviting [the USF community member who filed the complaint] or possibly the LGBT caucus leadership to be part of the conversation to see if what we come up with is acceptable?’” said Petersen.
Since then, the Title IX office has reached out to multiple members of the LGBT community at USF to be part of the conversation. “At this point,” said Fleming, “we do not have a representative from their group.”
When asked if USF was prepared to renovate the men’s bathrooms to include equal privacy as the women’s space, Petersen replied, “I don’t know, I think we need to do some homework to see how extensive this potentially could be.”
Featured Photo: Leighia Fleming is USF’s Title IX coordinator. This past summer, her office received a case which could morph Title IX’s role across college campuses. GABRIEL GRESCHLER/FOGHORN