Official Student Media of Valencia College

Valencia Voice

Official Student Media of Valencia College

Valencia Voice

Official Student Media of Valencia College

Valencia Voice

Examining the Campus Impact of Florida’s New ‘Bathroom Bill’

Female and Male Restrooms at Building 11, Valencia College West Campus. (Emily Reliquias)

Florida’s “Bathroom Bill” has ignited a fierce debate in higher education. While proponents argue it enhances safety, Valencia College student Rae Matthiessen expresses fear, emphasizing the need for an inclusive environment.

Matthiessen, Health Science major who identifies as a transgender male, voiced his concerns stating, “I think it’s really important to pay attention to these kinds of laws now, because I’m afraid we could lose our transgender rights or not have access to the things we need.”

Governor DeSantis signed the bill on May 18, 2023 which states that bathrooms and changing facilities access should be based on an individual’s assigned sex at birth, rather than their gender identity. The implications for colleges and universities are deep, with educators, students, and administrators dealing with a complex mix of legal, ethical, and practical considerations.

Matthiessen shared his personal experience, stating, “I have classes from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. where I need to use the restroom, and this situation can be very debilitating. It puts me in a position where I need to be constantly aware of my surroundings.”

The implications are significant within higher education institutions. College campuses are often places where students explore their identities, making inclusivity and support for LGBTQ+ students a central concern for many institutions.

Rachel Allen, Director of the Peace and Justice Institute based in Winter Park, emphasized the disruptive nature of such political interventions, saying, “When a political intervention restricts what colleges and universities were designed to do, which is to help individuals move toward the truth, it can be profoundly disruptive.”

The bill, also known as the Safety in Private Spaces Act, not only establishes strict penalties for students, it also includes provisions for university employees who violate Florida Statute § 553.865  by subjecting them to their respective university’s disciplinary procedures, which encompass a range of actions, including potential dismissal.**

According to the Valencia College Director of Public Relations Carol Traynor, the necessary amendments to Valencia College’s Student Code of Conduct, as stipulated by HB 1521, have been made available on the college’s website.

When asked about the number of gender-neutral bathrooms across Valencia College’s campuses, Traynor disclosed, “There are 15 single-occupant restrooms college-wide, with five located on West Campus, two on East Campus, six on Osceola Campus, one on Lake Nona Campus, and one on Poinciana Campus.” She further noted that “the Winter Park Campus does not currently have a single-stall restroom, but the college facilities team is assessing the situation there.”

Traynor also shared plans to enhance restroom accessibility across Valencia College’s campuses, stating, “To inform the community of these restroom locations, there will be vinyl stickers on all restroom’s entrances – except Downtown and Winter Park – that will have a QR code to an interactive map that has the location of the single-stall restrooms. There will also be some printed versions of the stickers in various places around campus as well; for example, the libraries, tutoring centers, advising/counseling offices.” A date for the new vinyl stickers has not been given at this  time.

Higher education institutions are finding themselves at the intersection of a broader national conversation about civil rights, personal freedoms, and the role of government in shaping educational policy. The bill’s implications reach far beyond restroom access, touching upon fundamental questions about equality, diversity, and the inclusion of LGBTQ+ students in the educational experience.

Allen draws parallels to ancient Greek philosopher Plato’s works, expressing, “The bill reflects on the ‘Allegory of the Cave’: to get out of the cave, we have to find what is real. If a bill is going to keep us in the cave, you can see how that contradicts the role of a college university.”

** Editor’s Note: Find the Valencia College’s Student Code of Conduct amendment below:

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