In the midst of conservative, rural southern Oregon is the People's Republic of Ashland, a picturesque university town that has long been a hotbed of left-wing nuttiness and social experimention. Which tends to be the norm for small university towns. If recent developments at SOU are any indication, the next generation of college graduates isn't going to be friendly. Behold, America's future leaders:
Kevin Tomita says that in his four years at Southern Oregon University, he has noticed a sizeable effort by administrators to make the campus more gender-neutral.
"I noticed a really large push, actually," said Tomita, referring to more than a dozen gender-neutral bathrooms installed across campus since his freshman year.
Tomita, who works as a staff manager at the campus' Queer Resource Center, said the school's administration has been very supportive of the QRC's ideas.
"As a whole, I think this is a really accepting school," said Tomita. "And the administration are really supportive."
At least 15 gender-neutral bathrooms were created over the past few years, either by changing the signs on the doors or by gutting old bathrooms and reconstructing them, such as in the gender-neutral floor of Diamond Hall in the Cascade dorm complex.
The school spent $45,000 in fall 2009 to convert the open floor plan of the former women's restrooms into four separated, locking bathroom and shower rooms.
Diamond Hall, the first gender-neutral hall on campus, received a fairly warm welcome from the campus community, except for one incident of graffiti.
In spring 2010, two male SOU students were arrested after scrawling homophobic graffiti with markers on the walls of the gender-neutral floor.
The students later apologized for their actions, saying they didn't know they were on a gender-neutral floor and didn't intend to victimize anyone.
The changes across campus — particularly the bathrooms — were a welcome addition for Amiko-Gabriel Stocking, a student who chooses not to identify with a gender of male or female.
"I got kicked out of men's and women's bathrooms before," said Stocking, who said it is a huge relief to feel comfortable in a bathroom.
"I certainly became less anxious about my own gender identity," said Stocking, 27. "I create my gender as I go."
Stocking said various other cultures allow people to identify with one of as many as seven different genders.
"Sometimes gender in other cultures has taken on a spiritual role," said Stocking. "Gender varies across the globe."
Stocking, who is finishing a major in human communication and sociology this year, is working on a senior project to create a gender-inclusive training manual for the Lotus Rising Project, a youth-led social justice organization in Southern Oregon.
The manual describes gender-inclusive language that encourages people to focus on an individual rather than gender, omitting words such as "he" or "him" whenever possible.
"I create my gender as I go." Sweet. Now if that isn't the perfect synthesis of radical individualism and practical egalitarianism, I don't know what is.