As Senate Bill 6 and House Bill 2899 aim to restrict bathroom accessibility for transgender and gender-nonconforming people in Texas, the Rice University Queer Resource Center hopes to increase the number of gender neutral bathrooms on campus by changing gendered signs on single-stall bathrooms to gender-neutral signs this summer. This change comes after a five-year-old initiative despite administrative delays.
“At this point we’re just trying to change some signs, and that can really make a big difference in people’s lives."
According to Associate Vice President of Facilities Engineering and Planning Kathy Jones, the gender-neutral signs will start being installed in late May and will all be in by July 1. In the future, the QRC hopes to have at least one gender-neutral bathroom in every building on campus.
QRC Co-President Katie Webber said the project was started five years ago by the Queers and Allies group before the QRC was founded. Members of Queers and Allies gathered data on on-campus single-stalled bathrooms and what buildings lacked gender-neutral bathrooms.
QRC Co-President Brooke English said that this data was lost when Queers and Allies became the QRC and had to be regathered. Last spring, after this process was completed, the QRC brought this data to Vice President of the Administration Kevin Kirby and Dean of Undergraduates John Hutchinson and discussed the possibility of turning single-stall bathrooms into gender neutral bathrooms. Hutchinson and Kirby responded by hiring an architect firm to survey gender-neutral bathroom sign conventions in colleges across the country and design a new sign according to their findings. Last spring, Jones said the sign replacement process would be completed by the end of 2016.
“We believe that identifying and signing as many restrooms as possible as gender-neutral is both an important step toward gender equality and a literal sign that Rice is an inclusive and welcoming community,” Hutchinson said in an email.
English said the QRC had been prepared to replace the signs themselves using the data that they had gathered.
“The QRC was prepared to find all of the single-stall bathrooms that are mislabeled, provide our own signs and go out and replace these signs ourselves,” English said. “It’s been over a year now, we have the design for the sign, which is almost exactly the same as the one that has been sitting in the QRC for years now and there have been numerous delays in getting them installed.”
Jones said she was not aware the QRC already possessed gender-neutral signs. The architect had to be hired to create different sign designs for each building to maintain coherence.
The delays did not stop there. Initially, the signs were to be replaced over winter break of this year, but, because the architect took longer than expected to create the designs, the project was delayed until spring break. During spring break, however, the QRC was told the signs could not be installed for at least several months because of “documentation issues.” Webber said after contacting FE&P and Hutchinson, she was told there were funding issues.
“I see the construction work on the building over by Lovett College, and it is moving along and meeting deadlines, but when there is a student initiative brought to FE&P there are issues with documentation or securing funding that result in month long delays for signs that honestly should not be that expensive,” English, a Baker College sophomore, said.
According to Jones, there were no funding issues, and there has already been a manufacturer chosen to produce the signs. The signs should begin to be installed this May.
English and Webber said they had been told by FE&P that the signs would be changed this summer by July 1. Webber met with Jones, Hutchinson and Student Association President Justin Onwenu on Tuesday to discuss the project and was assured that the signs would start going in by late May.
“It is really frustrating to be told a solid date and have it keep moving backwards when all we want to do is put in signs for the single stall bathrooms at this juncture,” Webber said.
After single-stall bathrooms are converted, Webber said the QRC hopes to convert multi-stall bathrooms in some buildings as well. At the Tuesday meeting, Dean Hutchinson said he would be willing to start working on making some multi-stall bathrooms gender-neutral, especially in college areas where there are currently no gender-neutral bathrooms. According to Hutchinson and Jones, it would be necessary to erect floor-to-ceiling doors in all gender-neutral multi-stall bathrooms, and to remove urinals when converting males’ bathrooms.
“There are some buildings that are over 100 years old, so it’s not feasible to add a single stall bathroom,” Webber said. “Our plan is to take one set of multi-stall bathrooms and convert those into gender-neutral bathrooms.”
Webber and English said this project will be an important piece of Rice’s commitment to fostering an open and supportive educational environment.
“We know Rice stands behind trans students, but we think gender-neutral bathrooms are a great way to make everyone feel safe, including gender-neutral people or nonbinary people,” Webber said. “At this point we’re just trying to change some signs, and that can really make a big difference in people’s lives, especially when you think about how far you’d have to go sometimes to use a bathroom that you feel safe in.”
According to English, the initiative will also benefit other student groups who cannot easily find and use appropriate bathrooms.
“It is not even just trans or gender-nonconforming students,” English said. “Anyone with a disability that might make it necessary to have another person with them in the bathroom might have a difficult time finding an appropriate restroom.”
Jones said that she and senior administration fully support the project and hope it will allow more students to feel equal on campus.
“I believe that the installation of these signs sends the message that everyone is considered an equal on the Rice campus,” Jones said.