For several months, Queer Resource Center facilitators and Facilities Engineering and Planning have been working on increasing the number of gender-neutral bathrooms at Rice.
The group of QRC facilitators, including Catherine Wu, Seth Lauer and a student who goes by Brook, said their goal is to provide a safe, comfortable, healthy, accessible and convenient option to all people who use the bathrooms at Rice, including students, faculty, staff and visitors.
“[Gender-neutral bathrooms] can be something that is beneficial for all people on campus and doesn’t make anybody less comfortable,” Lauer, a Duncan College senior, said.
According to Lauer, the main concerns behind the push toward more gender-neutral bathrooms are health and safety of both students and visitors to the campus.
“With the number of accessible bathrooms that are gender-neutral on campus right now, it’s very likely that a student who has to go to the bathroom may have to hold their bladder as they walk entirely across campus,” Lauer said.
Wu, Lauer and Brook said gender-neutral bathrooms can be helpful for a variety of students and visitors to the campus, such as individuals who face anxiety or family members that require help to use the restroom, regardless of whether they identify as gender-neutral.
“[Consider] a mother with a 23-year-old son who is in a wheelchair and needs help going to the bathroom,” Lauer said. “Where is she supposed to go?”
Lauer also said individuals who don’t appear to conform with gender norms, including himself, can face bathroom harassment when using a gendered restroom. Lauer said he wore pigtails and lipstick at Martel on Beer Bike and while he was standing in the line for the men’s restroom, another student in line indicated that Lauer belonged in the women’s restroom.
“[Instances like this say] the way you’re appearing today on this campus is wrong,” Lauer said. “You don’t belong in this bathroom. But do I belong in the women’s bathroom? It’s Beer Bike and I’m just trying to have a good time and freaking pee.”
Wu, Lauer and Brook brought the issue of a lack of gender-neutral restrooms to the administration’s attention in early February in a meeting with Dean of Undergraduates John Hutchinson and Vice President for Administration Kevin Kirby, who passed the project to Associate Vice President of FE&P Kathy Jones. Jones said she has been working on gathering data and putting together a campus map showing the gender-neutral, single-stall and family restrooms on campus for the past month.
“It’s a very interesting assignment that Kirby gave me, and I’ve taken it and have been running with it,” Jones said. “I hope I can make a difference.”
Jones has reached out to professionals and LGBT resource centers at universities across the nation, such as the University of California, Pennsylvania State University and the Consortium of Higher Education LGBT Resource Professionals, to determine the best practices Rice could follow in forming its policies.
FE&P data shows that there are currently 38 bathrooms on campus that are compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act, are single-stall restrooms and lack explicit gender labeling. However, of these 38, only 18 are located in an academic building in central campus. For example, Reckling Park, Tudor Fieldhouse and the Biosciences Research Collaborative are not considered academic buildings in central campus. However, this data has not yet been manually verified.
Both administration and the QRC facilitators agreed that a simple change to make after the current gender-neutral bathrooms have been fully identified is to relabel any gendered single-stall restrooms that could be nongendered. Jones said this process should be completed by the end of 2016, with proper input from Rice’s architects to ensure aesthetic uniformity.
According to Jones, the greatest difficulty is in implementing new restrooms in older buildings, as adding plumbing can be cost-prohibitive. However, it is much simpler to change bathrooms in buildings undergoing renovations, although space can still be limited, especially when ensuring restrooms are ADA-accessible.
“Putting them in the new construction is easy, so I think moving forward, once we develop what the policy is, then we can make that standard,” Jones said. “Right now, we’re trying to make sure that in most new construction, including the Moody Center for the Arts and the new office building adjacent to Allen Center, we’re adding at least one gender-neutral facility.”
Jones said while many of the gender-neutral facilities are concentrated in academic buildings, residential colleges are lacking. Duncan College and McMurtry College have gender-neutral facilities as the newest suite-style colleges, but Martel College, Jones College, Brown College, Wiess College and Will Rice College have none.
The QRC facilitators working on the project said their final goal would be to have multi-stall gendered or nongendered options, by transitioning a fraction of the restrooms in buildings with multiple gendered restrooms to nongendered. Jones said the university is trying to move toward gender-neutral facilities for renovations on Brown College this summer, and said she believes that overall, multi-stall facilities on campus are moving toward gender-neutrality.
“I don’t expect pushback from students,” Jones said. “I think Rice students are great, and just from what we’ve experienced so far with Brown, they’ve been very welcoming.”