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Student Alliance Helps Propel Wharton to Add Lactation Suite, Gender-Neutral Restrooms

Wharton Adds Lactation Suites and Gender Neutral Restrooms

Data-Driven Arguments Hold Sway
The students came armed with data to back up their proposal when they approached the administration. It is Wharton, after all. In particular, they wanted to show evidence that supports the importance of gender-neutral restrooms, since that’s the issue they feared might meet with resistance.

They cited a 2013 study of transgender and gender non-conforming people who work, live and/or attend school in Washington, DC. According to the study, 70 percent of respondents had experienced problems using gendered facilities, including verbal harassment, assault and being denied access to public restrooms. Ten percent of those who attended school reported a negative impact on their education, including having excessive absences and dropping out of school due to issues related to restroom access. And 27 percent of those in workplaces experienced problems using restrooms at work that, in some cases, caused them to change jobs or leave their employer entirely.

“At Wharton, if students want something and we do our homework, backed up with data, the school is usually very responsive,” Matovu says. In fact, there was no pushback from the administration. “It was more about the timing and people not being able to say yes until they had all their ducks in a row,” she says. “I never felt like we were fighting an uphill battle from a conceptual perspective.”

Henderson, for her part, simply doesn’t understand the uproar in the public around gender-neutral bathrooms. “All of the bathrooms in my home are gender neutral,” says the 60-year-old. “I don’t check anyone out. I don’t have signs.” She also notes that such facilities offer alternatives for adults who might be accompanied by a young child of a different gender or by a wheelchair-bound student who happens to have a caretaker of a different gender. “It’s just good all around,” she says.

Huntsman, because it is a newer building and was constructed with large, multiple-use, single-sex restrooms, will require more significant facilities updates to incorporate gender-neutral restrooms. “The older buildings were easier to deal with,” Henderson notes, requiring simply that individual-use restrooms be re-labeled for use by people of any gender. The signage of half of the restrooms in the Colonial Penn Center has been updated to reflect this change, Dean Garrett noted in his email.

In Huntsman, new facilities will be constructed on the Forum Level, outside of the Ambani Auditorium on the Walnut Street side. The head of operations identified a space that had the necessary plumbing in place after scouring the building, Henderson says. “The positive part is that this area is a little bit separated from the other areas of Huntsman,” she adds, offering more privacy to those who use it. “Here again, it was all serendipity,” she adds. Because these facilities will require more extensive updates, their completion date will likely be later than the lactation suite.

Greater Inclusivity Presents a Win-Win for Wharton
“The administration was incredibly responsive to our proposal, and I think it speaks to the fact that inclusivity and diversity are key topics at business school because they are becoming more and more important in the business world,” Redmond says.

Earlier this year, students at Wharton came together to form the new organization, Return on Equality, whose stated mission is “to make Wharton a pioneering institution that deliberately equips students to be leaders and advocates of inclusive organizational practices, enabling individuals to be recognized and valued as their whole selves.”

“Seeing that group be so welcomed by the administration made it very clear that they are very much on board with creating an inclusive environment,” Redmond says. “Likewise, they understood right away why our proposal was so important because they are thinking about these issues themselves.”

lactation suite

Divinity Matovu, MBA ’17, co-president of Mothers @ Wharton

Matovu confesses that she had not given much thought to gender-neutral restrooms before working with other student groups at Wharton as part of this process. “I became educated about what an important issue it is through this experience, and I will be an ally moving forward,” she says. But even though she was no longer nursing her daughter when she applied to business school, the availability of lactation rooms was something she asked about during campus visits. “I wanted to know whether Wharton was a place that moms could come and feel supported,” she says. “When I found out Wharton didn’t have a lactation room in Huntsman Hall, I was not happy. I feel privileged to be part of the student team that advocated for this change, which will positively impact countless women and their babies in the years ahead.” Now, to those for whom either resource is a distinguishing factor between one school and the next, she thinks they could tip the scales in Wharton’s favor.

Henderson, too, hopes the facilities updates will help prospective applicants view Wharton as an increasingly inclusive community. “The decision about where to go to school is complex, and it’s hard to say that people will choose to come here because of the lactation space or the restrooms, but sometimes these things are symbolic,” she says. “It sends a signal that people at Wharton are thinking about these things.”

Posted in: MBA News, News

Schools: UPenn / Wharton

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