Higher education

'Restroom evolution' underway at University of Iowa

147 gender-inclusive bathrooms to be available

A sign stating that anyone can use a single-use restroom is shown June 28 in the Lindquist Center on the campus of the U
A sign stating that anyone can use a single-use restroom is shown June 28 in the Lindquist Center on the campus of the University of Iowa in Iowa City. (Adam Wesley/The Gazette)

The University of Iowa is completing a project to make 147 gender-inclusive, single-user restrooms available throughout campus buildings.

The restrooms “allow anyone to use them, regardless of gender identity,” said Teri Schnelle, coordinator for student life assessments and initiatives. “Essentially it’s private. If you feel most comfortable using a restroom that’s just you, you can.”

Dr. Barry Schreier, director of University Counseling Services, said that the restrooms are important for many transgender students because it’s one less adjustment they have to make.

“The restrooms that are currently signed as unisex will be updated to have the new sign type for single-user restrooms,” said Adele Vanarsdale, campus planner for Facilities Management.

The signs will read, “Anyone can use this restroom regardless of gender identity or expression,” Vanarsdale said.

The Counseling Center already has gender-inclusive restrooms, and some students have approached staff thanking them for having them available, Schreier said.

“We have students come over from all the way across campus and use our restrooms,” Schreier said. “It’s one less thing for students to have to worry about.”

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Volunteer help

The project first was proposed by an employee at the Women’s Resource & Action Center a few years ago, then taken up by the Division of Student Life last summer.

Schnelle, Meagan Schorr of the WRAC, and Cindy Ann Kilgo, a now-graduated doctorate student in higher education and student affairs, spearheaded what they dubbed the Restroom Evolution project, Schnelle said. They led nearly 40 student, faculty and staff volunteers in conducting restroom audits across campus.

Volunteers looked at restroom signage, door locks, whether there was a toilet or a urinal, and a few other factors, Schnelle said.

“Each person had one or two buildings,” Schnelle said. “We wouldn’t have been able to do the audit process without the volunteers.”

After counting nearly a thousand restrooms, the group presented the data to Facilities Management, Schnelle said.

“Rather than just a committee being tasked with this, it feels like the institution is responding,” Schreier said.

Sean Finn, president of the UI Trans Alliance and a volunteer for restroom auditing, said the project demonstrates the progressive attitude of the UI with its goals of diversity and inclusion.

“This is important for people who don’t identify as male or female,” Finn said. “They don’t have to put themselves in a box they don’t feel comfortable with. It’s about making everyone on campus feel comfortable.”

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Next steps

Facilities Management is responsible for changing the signs on the restrooms, which they expect to complete by the end of the year, Vanarsdale said.

The university’s online campus maps already include “single-user, gender-inclusive” restrooms as an amenity. The work group is completing the print versions of the maps to include new buildings going up on campus. These maps will be available across campus, Schnelle said.

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