Feeling at home

Gender neutral restrooms part of 2016 inclusion initiatives

The designation of gender neutral restrooms will be the first of several initiatives to be carried out from Ferris State University’s new Diversity and Inclusion Plan.

Most single-stall restrooms at Ferris are in pairs, one designated for men and one for women.

This semester, Physical Plant will install new signs so that about three dozen single-stall restrooms at Ferris can be used by anyone. According to David Pilgrim, Ferris’ Vice President for Diversity and Inclusion, work on the restrooms will be substantially completed by the end of the semester.

“No one should ever be in a situation where they have to plan their day around the accessibility of a restroom,” Pilgrim said. “Single-stall restrooms at the university should be treated the same way the ones in our homes are treated. In other words, they should be open to men and women.”

The 2016 Diversity and Inclusion Plan, titled “There Is a Home for You at Ferris State University,” serves to expand on Ferris’ efforts to recruit and retain a diverse student body, faculty and staff, as well as make sure those groups feel fully incorporated into the Ferris community.

Pilgrim is the primary author of the new 5-year plan, but sought help identifying what should go in the plan from a group of more than 40 professors, administrators and students. Ferris also hired a consulting firm to conduct a “diversity audit” on campus, surveying 17 focus groups as well as 1,646 students and hundreds of faculty and staff.

Over the next five years, other goals of the plan include the creation of an LGBTQ resource center, creation of a center for academic literacies, designating a lactation room for nursing mothers, designating space for a prayer or meditation room, assessing the needs of homeless or hungry students on campus, displaying diverse art around campus and more.

According to Pilgrim, administrators are being asked to champion individual goals of the plan that they are prepared take on.

“They come in, we have lunch, eat a pizza or something and I shut up and they tell me about their experiences at Ferris,” Pilgrim said. “I don’t want to wait for surveys to hear the voices of our students.”

Additionally, a Multicultural Student Advisory Committee has been created to provide informal counsel about ongoing inclusion efforts to Pilgrim and Vice President of Student Affairs, Janine Ward-Roof. The committee consists of about 15 members from several cultural student organizations.

Tom Gladney, head of Student Government’s diversity committee, was consulted during the planning process of the Diversity and Inclusion Plan and is now a member of the Multicultural Student Advisory Committee.

“They listened to our input quite a bit,” said Gladney, a Ferris criminal justice senior. “We see things everyday that [the administration] may not see and that some people might not bring up to faculty otherwise.”

Ferris first released a plan to become more diverse in 2008, but it didn’t contain efforts for inclusion, a component Pilgrim feels is just as important.

“Diversity focuses mostly on numbers. Inclusion is much more difficult,” Pilgrim said. “It is about making sure people feel welcome. Our ambition is to create a place where everybody believes the campus belongs to them. We’re moving in that direction.”

Gladney agreed, saying Ferris does have a diverse population and that for students, efforts should be focused on inclusion.

“The job doesn’t stop when you get the diverse population,” he said. “You have to keep working toward making people feel like family. Getting them here is great, but being able to incorporate everyone so they feel at home is another important aspect.”

To view Ferris’ Diversity and Inclusion Plan in full, visit http://ferris.edu/diversity/.