Two single-use bathrooms on the second floor of the E. Claiborne Robins School of Business became gender-neutral on Feb. 26 as part of a campus-wide push for inclusiveness.
Plans to make the restrooms gender-neutral started approximately five years ago in a collaboration between the Office of Common Ground and University Facilities, said Laura Thompson, assistant dean of undergraduate student services at the business school, and Lee Dyer, associate director for LGBTQ campus life.
“We were able to change all of the single-use restrooms into gender-neutral restrooms,” said Dyer, referring to previous efforts to make all other single-use restrooms on campus gender-neutral. “It seems like we had actually overlooked the business school.”
On-campus conversation on the topic was sparked by a 2016 national debate around bathroom access for trans-identifying people in North Carolina, Dyer said. When Dyer was hired in 2017, Common Ground was trying to turn conversations into action with help from vocal student groups, Dyer said.
The project was important because it helped ensure safety for trans-identifying students, who could then focus on being students instead of worrying about harassment, Dyer said.
“In an inclusive community, that means we’re making sure that all aspects of student life are inclusive to all students, especially fundamental things,” Dyer said.
Thompson said she realized the oversight of the business school bathrooms after finding an old email about the project and contacted Common Ground. Dyer and Thompson then worked together with University Facilities to change the signage of the restrooms, Dyer said.
Dyer said that it could be difficult for the four people in Common Ground to catch everything happening on campus and praised the business school for taking initiative with the move. Dyer said he really appreciated when departments and divisions took it upon themselves to critically look at what needs to change.
“They have very good folks over there who are pushing the climate to change,” Dyer said. Although the business school often got a bad reputation for its homogeneous culture, it had changed a lot in his three years on campus, he said.
The only change with the bathrooms themselves so far has been the signage. Dyer and Thompson said both bathrooms had already had locks, a requirement for gender-neutral bathrooms.
As for the urinal that remains in the formerly male restroom, Dyer said he and Thompson had agreed that it could remain in the restroom for the time being.
“When you start to remove stuff in the bathroom it becomes a more expensive building project,” Dyer said. He also said Thompson and he had agreed to leave the urinal for now because it had allowed students to still have access to it, and they didn’t want to assume anybody’s genitals.
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Senior Jay Do said he had supported the change. Do said it hadn't been drastic, but it would help students feel more comfortable and included.
Sophomore William Bartnett said he hadn’t noticed the change at first but was initially taken aback after he did because he hadn’t heard anything about it.
Thompson said no big announcement had been made to students and faculty because the change was supposed to happen so long ago.
Although Bartnett said the change was not important to him personally, he said if it was important to students, then the school should support it.
“If it helps a certain percentage of the population, I think that’s great," Bartnett said. "And I think that it doesn’t hurt anyone [by] doing it."
However, Bartnett did have questions about the motivations behind the change, asking whether students had felt uncomfortable about having to choose between bathrooms or if the school had just taken the initiative upon itself in an effort to be more inclusive. He said the urinal remaining in the bathroom might present other uncomfortable situations to some.
If UR wants to change bathrooms to gender neutral, Bartnett thinks it should be better executed, he said.
Dyer said that conversations had started between Common Ground and University Facilities about multi-stall gender-neutral bathrooms and what those would look like, although plans are still years into the future.
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