Students living in the new Gladding Residence Center have more than a fresh place to sleep — residents also get the opportunity to use VCU’s first gender-neutral community bathrooms.
According to associate director of Residential Life and Housing Megan Becker, the co-ed bathrooms stemmed from the university’s desire to “cultivate a future where communities can flourish by understanding, embracing and celebrating diversity.”
The European-style lavatories do not include stalls; instead, there are floor-to-ceiling doors that separate every toilet and shower.
“The bathroom design provides privacy where needed while also allowing Residential Life and Housing the opportunity to provide flexible room space as the gender breakdown of accepted students can change from year to year,” Becker said.
This was not just an executive university decision. Becker said student input was solicited throughout the design phase of the building and that feedback was sought out from Residence Hall Association student representatives, multiple student focus groups around campus and design meetings.
“I think that having a place where everyone feels safe and comfortable to go to the bathroom is an important piece that we as a campus are working toward,” said Camilla Hill, assistant director of the Office of Multicultural Student Affairs.
According to VCU housing, GRC is the new home of the Lavender House, a queer-friendly space and inclusive community for LGBTQIA students that will have monthly programs sponsored by OMSA. Previously, the Lavender House was located in the Cary and Belvidere residence hall. Other communities include Live WELL, LEAD Explores, the Emerging Leaders program, Mosaic, Outdoor Adventure, SPARK, Ramprenuer and VCux/ui.
Becker said the university does not currently plan to make any existing residence hall bathrooms gender-neutral. Instead, she said future residence hall construction may include gender-inclusive bathrooms depending on design goals.
Hill echoed the sentiment that future VCU facility designs will take similar steps when it comes to gender inclusion. Although VCU is not a pioneer in the move toward gender-inclusive facilities, she said the GRC design was a good start.
“I think that, as the buildings are built, this is probably going to be a new standard of what we should be doing for the university community,” Hill said. “It’s not like we’re leading the way, but I also think — in comparison to other schools in the South — we’re doing a lot of things better than a lot of other places.”
Some students were taken aback by the bathroom situation upon move-in. GRC resident Kamryn Haynesworth said that as a woman she feels it has been a hassle to maintain her privacy.
“I have to make sure I’m covered when I’m going in and when I’m going (out) just in case I run into a male. They had to make the doors extremely heavy and covered,” Haynesworth said. “This is a freshman-only dorm. I feel like it was already a big enough change as-is and this just adds to it. I didn’t find out this dorm was co-ed until the day I moved in.”
Sources including the resident manuals and the VCU housing website mentioned that the community bathrooms would be co-ed before housing applications opened earlier this year.
“It’s interesting because I think that people are making a lot more of a big deal out of the bathrooms than they need to,” Hill said. “The only thing that people are sharing are sinks; washing our hands is not something that we have deemed in society as a private practice.”
On the other hand, Becker said the bathroom set-up has garnered a great deal of support.
“We were proactive in our communication and made sure to answer any questions about the bathroom design in the new facility,” Becker said. “There was also positive feedback regarding the privacy of floor-to-ceiling locked shower and toilet areas within the shared bathroom space.”
There are two single-use, gender-neutral bathrooms per floor in GRC. Amid complaints of some of these bathrooms being unavailable for student use, Becker said some may be locked from the inside due to faulty locking systems. She said the target goal is to have the systems re-installed by the week of Sept. 17.
As for students who do not agree with using the bathrooms due to personal prejudices, Hill said to be mindful of the precedent VCU has in terms of diversity and acceptance with the university’s non-discrimination policy.
“I think that’s something that everyone needs to work through because part of going to college is being pushed outside of our comfort zone, to learn and to grow and develop as human beings,” Hill said. “I don’t really think we are asking much of people to just be respectful of other people’s right to privacy and go to the bathroom.”
Nia Tariq, News Editor