KU Libraries debut new gender-neutral restrooms, ‘reflection room’ as part of ongoing inclusivity efforts

Watson Library, 1425 Jayhawk Blvd. on the University of Kansas campus.

Watson Library has joined the growing ranks of buildings across the University of Kansas campus to offer gender-inclusive restrooms.

This semester saw the debut of two private, non-gendered facilities on Watson’s third floor, along with other changes conceived as part of KU Libraries’ ongoing Diversity, Equity & Inclusion initiatives.

The renovations provide a more welcoming option for those “who don’t identify with one of the traditional binary genders,” dean of libraries Kevin Smith said, but they’re also part of what he considers a shift toward more usable spaces, for more people.

“I think this is the way that a lot of public facilities should be going and probably are going toward with more inclusive restrooms and single-user restrooms,” Smith said.

In addition to Watson’s second-floor private facilities, the library’s existing gendered bathrooms on the fourth and fifth floors have been made ADA-accessible. The private commodes also received an ADA makeover.

While similar renovations at KU’s Anschutz Library — multi-stall restrooms that have been made lockable for use by only one person, of any gender, at a time — raised a few eyebrows back when they were installed last year, Smith said the response has been “very positive” overall.

Seeing urinals in a restroom not designated specifically for men “startled” a few people at first, he said, but students have quickly gotten used to the setup.

“I think it’s the appropriate way to go, just trying to do it with the facilities we already have,” Smith said. “And we have to do it gradually.”

Restroom renovations were primarily a staff-led project, he said. The new reflection room added this semester at the School of Engineering’s Spahr Library was spurred by student requests, Smith said.

The spaces (Watson and Anschutz libraries already have their own) are available expressly for the purposes of reflection, meditation and prayer, regardless of faith or denomination,” KU’s website says, and can be used at any time during scheduled building hours.

They’re similar to the Kansas Union reflection room established in fall 2015. That project was also student-led, a year-long effort by several KU entities and spearheaded, primarily, by a Muslim student who wanted a quiet, convenient space to pray (Islam calls for multiple prayers throughout the day) on campus.

That room, located in a small alcove near the dining area on the union’s third floor, remains open to all faiths. A similar space will also be located in the new Burge Union when it opens in summer 2018.

“We continually make efforts to keep our spaces up to date and make them as welcome and usable for students as possible,” Smith said. “The privacy restrooms and reflection spaces, perhaps, also reflect our commitment to diversity and inclusion, but we also have new furniture on the fifth floor of Watson to make study spaces more usable for the way students study today.”

That’s one example of many recent updates meant to make KU Libraries more accessible in a rapidly changing world. Last year, Watson Library also added Studio K — a quick-record studio where students only need a USB drive to efficiently record speeches, presentations and other projects — along with group study rooms, a refurbished GIS & Data lab, and extended hours.

Spencer Research Library, which last week unveiled its newly renovated North Gallery, is also in the early planning stages of adding single-user restrooms in the style of Watson Library, Smith said.

“The bathrooms are important, obviously, in a public facility,” he said, but, “I’d really like to emphasize that this is part of an overall and ongoing effort to make our space as welcoming and usable as we can.”