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Credit: Alana Kelly

After facing demands to increase the number of all-gender bathrooms on campus, the University has incorporated more gender-inclusive designs into existing facilities.

University Architect Mark Kocent said several new all-gender bathrooms have been built in the past year, and more renovations to incorporate all-gender bathrooms into the buildings' designs are underway.

The Office of the University Architect, which works closely with any school or center that commissions a new project, has opened new multi-stall, all-gender restrooms in the Levin Building, the David Rittenhouse Laboratory, and the Franklin Building on campus in the past year, Kocent said. The McNeil Building and the Lauder Institute were renovated in the summer of 2019 to include all-gender bathrooms, as well.

LGBT Center Director Erin Cross said that the new multi-stall, all-gender bathrooms in the McNeil Building were well received by students, faculty, and staff, who believe the facilities are more convenient and efficient for everyone.

“We’ve heard from heterosexual, cisgender people that they prefer [the new bathrooms] because they can get in and out much faster than waiting in a line,” Cross said. “There’s also more privacy involved because the stalls [are] longer.”

Kocent added that all new and underway projects and buildings, such as New College House West, have all-gender bathrooms built into the design. The newly built Wharton Academic Research Building on Spruce Street and Tangen Hall on 40th Street were constructed to have all-gender bathrooms incorporated into the design, he said.  

The Biomedical Library, Vagelos Laboratory for Energy Science and Technology, Fisher Fine Arts Library, Stouffer College House, and Quad also have renovations in process for all-gender bathrooms, he added.

“We’re in the early design stages of a multi-year renovation of the Quadrangle, which will include single-user restrooms and multi-stall facilities throughout the building,” he said. 

Houston Hall was slated to be renovated in the summer of 2020 to include all-gender bathrooms, but the project was pushed back due to the pandemic and budget constraints. Kocent said the project designs are 90% complete and will be completed this summer.

“I wouldn’t say that [COVID-19] had a major impact at all on our projects,” he said. “Any project that had full funding has continued.” 

Students have sought more gender-inclusive bathrooms on campus since 2017

The Student Committee on Undergraduate Education recently called for more gender-inclusive bathrooms in its 2020 White Paper, which the club releases every five years recommending long-term changes to Penn's academic policies.

In a section titled "Bathroom Constraints," the White Paper reads that all-gender bathrooms are necessary for inclusivity for transgender and nonbinary students and help create a more equitable learning environment.  

“Making bathrooms more accessible for everyone creates a better learning environment. Students who have to go to higher floors or a different building to use the restroom may be losing valuable class time and their concentration in class, which decreases academic performance,” the White Paper reads.

Cross said that, in addition to disrupting student learning, bathrooms that are in inconvenient locations are a potential health risk for students.

“We have students who plan their day around where they can go to the bathroom or who don’t drink enough fluids because they’re not near a bathroom in some of their buildings,” she said. “This really is a safety issue, a health issue, [and] a human rights issue. Everybody deserves to be healthy.” 

SCUE recommended that the University consider cost-effectiveness — since incorporating all-gender bathrooms in new buildings is less costly than renovating existing buildings to add all-gender bathrooms — and that the new bathrooms have multiple stalls and changing tables.

Cross said students prefer multi-stall, all-gender bathrooms to single-use bathrooms, which she said are often placed in inconvenient locations in buildings and do not encourage inclusivity.

“[Single-use bathrooms] are kind of separate but not equal because, usually, they’re in really weird places in the buildings. A lot of the time, they’re not even near the other gendered restrooms, or they’re in the basement,” she said.

SCUE’s goal is for 30% of bathrooms in all Penn buildings to be all-gender bathrooms by 2025, Engineering junior and SCUE Chair External Aidan Young said, adding that this ratio reflects the diversity of Penn’s campus.

“[Penn] administration has been working with us [by] giving their recommendations and their edits throughout the entire White Paper process,” he said. “I think a lot of the recommendations aren’t entirely new to a lot of the faculty.”

Young said that, although SCUE has not heard anything about Penn’s plans to expand all-gender bathrooms since releasing the White Paper, they are looking forward to meeting with faculty and staff members in the future to implement their recommendations.

Cross emphasized that Penn still has more work to do to become gender inclusive.

“I think most spaces on campus are gender inclusive, but that doesn’t mean the people in them are,” Cross said. “There still needs to be education around our trans community members, and it falls on us at the [LGBT] Center and other folks. It’s really important that it doesn’t just fall to folks who identify as transgender, non-conforming, or non-binary because they’re here to be students just like everybody else.”

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