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Planning for diversity: Campuses explore new ways to serve a dynamic population

Proposed guidelines to accommodate transgender people, nursing mothers and non-denominational serenity environments

By Leslie Louden (Washington, DC)

Change is constant, and nowhere is that more true than on today’s college campuses. While higher education campuses are increasingly socially, economically, demographically, and culturally diversified, few appear to have tackled space and policy planning associated with accommodating the needs of certain specific underserved groups: transgender people, nursing mothers and people of various faiths seeking serenity on campus.

Our higher education planning team was recently engaged by Montgomery College in Maryland to research best practices across the US, and to develop space planning guidelines for restrooms and locker facilities for transgender people, lactation rooms for nursing mothers, and serenity spaces for meditation, reflection, and contemplation.

Working with the planning leaders at this two-year college, our mission had four main goals:

  • Identify relevant sources of information and best practices
  • Evaluate current efforts to serve diverse constituents’ needs
  • Translate research findings into space planning guidelines for restrooms, locker rooms, lactation rooms, and serenity spaces
  • Communicate with Montgomery College leadership and stakeholders to prioritize action plans

Breaking new ground
Our extensive research effort, led by team member Dr. Marcia Harrington of Inquiry2Solutions, revealed that while many institutions are developing approaches to help address the needs of these populations,  standardized best practices for facilities planning in this arena are rare. This gave us an exciting opportunity to identify needs, challenges, and constraints and to set new benchmarks. The guidelines we developed through the study build the foundation for a broad-based approach that is inclusive, attentive to code and legal requirements, and meets user needs. 

We also discovered that, in addition to a dearth of established space guidelines, current model plumbing codes are outdated and a challenge to facilitating one of the most notable solutions we recommend: designing restrooms with private compartments that would allow more gender-inclusive facilities. 

Topic of discussion across higher education
For Montgomery College, we presented our findings in two ways. First, we advocate for heightened attention in five areas that should inform any college initiative: education about different populations; efforts that counter bullying; inclusivity in student support services; policies that reflect inclusivity; and signage that clarifies where certain accommodations can be found.  Secondly, we detail the type of each space need with three scenarios for implementation: adaptive reuse, major renovation, and new construction. 

There has been intense interest in this research and planning initiative.  Montgomery College’s Acting Director and Senior Campus Planner Sandra Lee Filippi, Wellesley College’s Director of Operations, Facilities Management and Planning Trina Mace Learned, Dr. Marcia Harrington and I have been accepted to present on this topic at three upcoming conferences. The presentations will consider how these cultural changes play out on different campuses, accounting for demographics, ethnicity, urban presence and two- or four-year programs. 

Meeting the physical, academic, and social support needs of all students is critical to the success of higher education. I am looking forward to sharing our findings and continuing our work on this important topic.

While higher education campuses are increasingly… socially, economically, demographically, and culturally diversified, few appear to have tackled space and policy planning associated with accommodating the needs of certain specific underserved groups

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