At The Collegian, we want to write stories that matter to you. We asked readers to send in their questions and burning curiosities about the University of Richmond. No topic was too big or too small. We picked five of them, and our reporters have found the answers for you. One question and answer will be published each day this week. Read the other stories in the series here. And keep being curious. 

When we enter the Heilman Dining Center, we all know there are bathrooms in the lobby. However, there is a second set of restrooms tucked behind the serving area that is considerably more convenient for use by diners. 

The Collegian sought to answer a key question about this second set of bathrooms: Why is there solely a multi-person male restroom and an all-gender single-user restroom within the dining hall? Why isn’t there a multi-person female restroom? 

To answer this, we spoke with Bettie Clarke, the executive director of campus dining. Her simple answer was that when the dining hall was last renovated, in October 2006, according to The Collegian, the campus administration undertook efforts to allow for greater gender-neutral acceptance and accessibility. These efforts started with bathrooms. 

The dining hall used to have one multi-user male restroom and one single-stall female restroom within the dining area, Clarke said. She said this was purely in the original design of the building, likely due to the inability to build multiple private female stalls in such a small space, as opposed to urinals with smaller footprints. 

Clark said this female bathroom was then converted, leaving one facility for women and anyone else, with the men’s room providing two urinals and one private stall. She explained that the women’s room was the only private bathroom facility in the building that could be altered in this way. 

Common Ground, the campus office that promotes a “thriving, equitable, and fully-participatory” UR community, has many resources on its website and at its office on the second floor of Tyler Haynes Commons relating to gender-neutral support on campus. 

Lee Dyer is the associate director of LGBTQ campus life. He said the dining hall bathroom arrangement and similar bathroom situations were not designed to prioritize male students, and that the decisions to convert such bathrooms was rather to ultimately prioritize student safety. 

"We have to keep in mind that while our campus is greatly inclusive, there might be some folks that are not,” Dyer said. “As a trans person, that is a scary thing. You don’t know how you are going to be perceived.” 

Single-stall restrooms eliminate interaction for anyone who may not feel safe or accepted in a gendered restroom, whether in they are in the midst of transitioning or identify as non-binary. 

Dyer said that although he wished there were a “one-stop process” for advancing gender-accessible resources on campus, he had felt great support from the President’s Advisory Committee for Making Excellence Inclusive as well as the Student Support Subcommittee co-chaired by Westhampton College Dean Mia Reinoso Genoni. 

Dyer said success in these efforts required “meeting people where they are,” especially within the administration of the university, and “taking the time to consider panoramic views” to find the right methods to serve all students equally. Dyer said that, ultimately, he was proud to report that the “university is committed to it all the way up to the President’s Office,” referring to  meeting the needs of gender-expansive students.

Common Ground’s campus trans policies include a promise that “we pledge that every future non-residential building on campus will have at least one gender-inclusive restroom. Additionally, every future residential building on campus will be planned with trans students in mind.” 

Andrew McBride, UR’s associate vice president for facilities and the university architect, responded to questions via email. 

McBride stated that the department “tr[ied] to incorporate some individual gender-neutral bathrooms in all future new construction and in renovation where possible.” McBride added that the costs of building these bathrooms “are incorporated into the construction cost of a project” and are difficult to isolate to consider a budget for these efforts.

Based on Clark and her staff member’s observations, the limited access to a female restroom in the dining hall proves problematic solely during times of heavy traffic, such as dinner-time, and when there are high volumes of guests, who may not be aware of the bathroom facilities located in the front of the building. 

The event areas in other parts of the dining hall have their own facilities to serve event goers and limit overflow into the dining area bathrooms. Clark’s recommendation is that “if you really have to go, run out to the front.” She suggests that the cashiers will be aware of you going and won’t make you swipe again to enter the dining area.

Clark was adamant that although “the university is always looking at changes and renovations and could change it again,” this system works well to comply with the university’s goal of providing gender-neutral bathroom spaces in the public areas on campus.

With regard to the use of gender-neutral bathrooms, senior Canvas Brieva provided their input: “As someone who's non-binary, I really appreciate the all-gender bathrooms. Even though UR has a non-discrimination policy regarding how any student has the right to use any public restroom, I still feel uneasy about public restrooms on campus. The all-gender bathrooms give me more peace of mind about not having to worry about my safety and presence in that inclusive space versus the worries I have in gendered spaces.”

They added that future all-gender bathrooms should be “integrated as part of the plan rather than as an afterthought to improve the ease of access.” 

Brieva said that although these bathrooms are present and easily pinpointed in high-traffic buildings “like d-hall, Gottwald and the library, sometimes the all-gender restrooms feel tucked away on one floor of a building that has two or three levels. They're definitely not as visible and accessible as gendered multi-stall bathrooms.” 

According to the Gender Inclusive Bathroom Map provided by Common Ground, campus currently has 49 gender-neutral bathrooms in public spaces, including three in the Boatwright Memorial Library. 

Contact features writer Isabella Dumitrescu at isabella.dumitrescu@richmond.edu.