A significant increase in the number of all-gender restrooms on both the Maryland Parkway and Shadow Lane campuses is underway — a concrete demonstration of UNLV’s commitment to creating an inclusive, welcoming environment.
This project came as the result of research and student feedback about top safety concerns on college campuses.
The two campuses now have 165 all-gender restrooms — 129 of which will include baby changing stations. These facilities are individual public restrooms, each with one toilet and one sink. Before the project began, the campuses had 13 all-gender restrooms and just eight included baby changing stations.
In 2019, UNLV formed a Safety and Security Working Group to identify key issues that impact the well-being of members of the campus community. The need for all-gender restrooms emerged as a top priority.
“We know that the benefits of all-gender restrooms run deeper than providing safety for trans and non-binary individuals,” said Barbee Oakes, who is retiring as chief diversity officer. “Achieving this goal also has the potential to fundamentally transform the way that we think about gender equity; and signals that UNLV is striving to provide an equitable, inclusive campus for everyone.”
Research shows that gender-non-conforming students across the country face specific challenges that could be alleviated, though not eradicated, with the availability of all-gender restrooms. In 2015, 24 percent of trans people who were out or perceived to be transgender in college or vocational school experienced verbal, physical, or sexual harassment, according to a report by the National Center for Transgender Equality. The Journal of College Student Development found that trans students often leave universities and colleges due to experiencing gender minority stress, which in part is based on a lack of access to gender-neutral spaces.
“Bathrooms have historically been politicized spaces,” said Romeo Jackson, assistant director of diversity and inclusion. “When a college campus has no all-gender restrooms, it is a form of microaggression. More restrooms are a symbol of micro-affirmation.”
Once the working group was armed with information, they assembled a team to turn this diversity and inclusion initiative into action. This included chair Nicholle Zarkower of the office of the chief financial officer; Romeo Jackson of student diversity & social justice; Allan Breese of facilities management; Jennifer McCarthy of space management; Phil Burns of the office of student conduct; Bridget Saul of space management; Dave Frommer of Planning, Construction & Real Estate; and political science professor Martha Phelps. Once the team got together, they began discussing logistics.
Among the first challenges the group tackled was defining, “inclusive restroom.” They decided developing consistent signage with inclusive language and installing the new signs on single-fixture restrooms was the most feasible way to attain their goal. This decision sparked an idea: adding baby changing stations to these restrooms would also expand the availability of restrooms for people with babies and small children.
Task force members leveraged their collective expertise and conducted supplemental research to determine the most current, inclusive language to print on the signs.
“In the early 2000s, the most popular term was ‘gender neutral’,” Jackson said. “However, gender is not neutral, so there’s been a shift to focus on more welcoming language. Using the term ‘all-gender’ creates inclusive, safe spaces rather than neutralized ones.”
Signs of the time
Then, with the help of planning & construction, the group developed a cohesive look for the signs while making slight variations to align with interior design elements in each of the 56 buildings where they would be installed.
“There isn’t a nationally accepted format for this type of signage,” said John Treston, director of design and associate university architect. “It is up to the states and local municipalities to develop their own standard. As a team, we researched pictographs used on other public restrooms and modified them to be uniquely UNLV.”
Next, custodial crews conducted an inventory of all the single-fixture restrooms on the two campuses and determined which ones could accommodate baby changing stations while maintaining required restroom standards under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
In 2020, facilities management teams began installation and collaborated with colleagues in athletics and residence hall buildings to have signs and changing tables installed in their buildings.
Throughout the process, the task force reached out to various employee and student groups and received a letter of support from CSUN.
“By pushing for all-gender restrooms, we show the students at UNLV that we value every person for who they are no matter their background,” said College of Liberal Arts Sen. Nour Benjelloun. “I 100 percent support the idea of implementing all-gender restrooms and speak on behalf of dozens of students I've met at UNLV who have faced issues due to the lack of inclusive restrooms.”