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UNM passes new policy calling for universal restrooms

Over winter break UNM passed a policy that requires all newly constructed facilities to include universal restrooms. While the policy is only 318 words, the battle to bring universal restrooms to UNM’s campus has been a long one.

According to Francie Cordova, director of the Office of Equal Opportunity, the LGBTQ Resource Center began a gender-neutral restroom initiative to ensure that UNM has safe restrooms for people who are gender nonconforming.

In 2013, the Associated Students of UNM passed a resolution in support of universal restrooms being introduced on campus. 

Ben Savoca, a facility planner who wrote the new policy, said he got involved with the initiative because he deals with some of the signage around campus.

Savoca also chairs a committee that deals with disability and accessibility on campus, members of which believed creating universal restrooms was an opportunity to create restrooms that could be even more inclusive, he said.

“We expanded the definition of universal restroom to make sure it’s accessible to people with disabilities, inviting to families and that it can accommodate people with various medical conditions,” Savoca said. “That’s why the policy requires needle drops; whether you’re doing hormone therapy or you’re diabetic, there’s so many reasons that you might need to use a hypodermic needle in privacy and find a safe way to dispose of it.”

The policy requires universal restrooms to include a sharps container, baby-changing station and gender-neutral signs. They are also required to be in compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act.

University officials have agreed to pay for the new signs which will also have an accessible designation, Cordova said.

Jay Camarillo, a student staff member at the LGBTQ Resource Center, said that speaking from personal experience, the new policy is “extremely exciting.”

“I believe this policy would also allow for the presence of something that our society may not be so used to, which is a safe place to challenge the dialogue that people are so used to practicing,” he said, “whether that be consciously or unconsciously allowing only two genders to be represented in something so human as going to the bathroom.”

Camarillo is glad UNM has “finally” recognized this policy, even though it comes years after the LGBTQ Resource Center started advocating for such an Initiative.

The Facility Access Committee, Planning Design and Construction, the Physical Plant Department, the Policy Office, the LGBTQ Resource Center, the Office of Equal Opportunity, the Women’s Resource Center and the Accessibility Resource Center were all involved in the process of the new policy’s creation, Savoca said.

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“Now comes the hard part — identifying which restrooms on campus are a single stall and might be a candidate to be improved to a universal restroom,” he said. “There’s a lot of work to be done still.”

OEO, the LGBTQ Resource Center and some student organizations have been visiting each building on campus to identify potential universal restrooms on campus, Cordova said.

Savoca said since the process to create the policy was so long, a lot of renovation projects and new construction projects in progress will include a universal restroom, including the McKinnon Center for Management and the impending Johnson renovations.

“I think it’s a subtle thing and it’s a small thing for people who don’t need one,” he said. “But for those who need one, I mean it’s tremendous. It’s just a subtle little thing that gets tucked into the UNM fabric and becomes part of our built environment that makes a world of difference for people without being presumptuous or raising a lot of fuss.”

Not every building will get a universal restroom, as some of the facilities on campus contain logistical obstacles that may prevent the type of restrooms outlined in the policy.

Still, Savoca insisted there will soon be universal restrooms across campus.

“I’ve been at the University for four-and-a-half years...and this is honestly the thing I’m proudest of. It seems kind of strange,” Savoca said. “But this one page of policy will have impacts that will echo through the campus.”

Cathy Cook is a news reporter at the Daily Lobo. She can be reached or on Twitter @Cathy_Daily.

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