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Variance for bathroom still up in the air

(Erica Lowenkron / Daily Collegian)

When it comes to the re-signing of the multi-stall bathroom on the first floor of Baker Hall, tense miscommunication remains a constant.

On Thursday, Sept. 28, the University of Massachusetts’ Bathroom and Restroom Committee held its first meeting since the town hall-style meeting on Sept. 19.  In the time between the two events, Spectrum residents and their allies drafted a comprehensive agenda to address the committee, ranging from alternate living accommodations to strategies for what happens if the variance is not passed to the plumbing code. The students’ goal was to hold the committee accountable, as to ensure progress.

“Something that came out of the last meeting was no one’s really sure who’s doing what,” said Jackson Quincy Luckner, a senior public health and women, gender and sexuality studies double major who uses they/them pronouns. “So I’d like to make it very clear and concrete and very public whose responsibility is what and when that is going to happen.”

Only UMass Residential Life employees attended on behalf of the bathroom committee: Jean MacKimmie, director of residence education, Julia Mohlala, assistant director for east multi-year and Kristen Dedrick, assistant director for east residential first year experience. While Mohlala and Dedrick made intermittent  remarks, it was MacKimmie who interacted most with the student attendees.

“I think there are some parallel processes here that I want to talk about,” MacKimmie said. “There’s a Baker community process around the two bathrooms here that we’re talking about and really want to stay in communication in your community about our process.”

At the meeting, students were informed that a variance has been drafted and circulated, and will be submitted to the local state plumbing inspector and board by the first week of October.

In response, some students voiced their frustration and concern with the committee’s handling of the issue.

First, the tactics used by the committee to publicize the event.

“Where was the publicity for this meeting?” Quincy Luckner asked.

Sibelle Grise, a senior French and Francophone and social thought and political economy double major and Spectrum community resident, spent her own money to print and distribute 250 fliers, publicizing this event, across campus.

“They were put up solely by students, not by administration. Any publicity, in the form of physical signs, was done by students,” Grise stated.

Beside the fliers, an email was sent out one night before the meeting to first floor residents of Baker Hall.

“This is bigger than just Baker,” said Ollie White, a sophomore anthropology and women, gender, sexuality studies major who uses they/them pronouns. This affects everyone on campus, and I think it’s extremely narrow-minded to be treating this like a Baker-exclusive issue.”

Second, the lack of committee members in attendance.

“I believe that, to my knowledge, I have yet to see the entirety of the committee; no one has,”  said Max Ureña, a junior communication disorders major who uses they/them pronouns.

Third, the perceived lack of preparation on the administrators’ part. In preparation for this meeting, Spectrum residents transcribed the town hall meeting and sent the minutes to MacKimmie and the committee. MacKimmie showed up without any documents related to the bathroom.

Fourth, the apparent lack of understanding and empathy for the necessity of this gender-neutral multi-stall bathroom for some UMass students.

“I know that even before they created the map on the UMass app, I spent six hours looking for a gender neutral bathroom, meaning that I—by the time I got back to Baker, that was the only gender-neutral bathroom I had access to that I could think of on campus because they’re not blatantly labelled, even the ones they have them labelled as ‘gender-neutral’ have gendered signs on them and they’re just not accessible to students like me,” Ureña said..

Although MacKimmie and Mohlala assured the attending students of their support, some students remained skeptical.

“We’re just taking you for your word here, and we don’t see anything to show for your work,” Grise said.

“The fact that Pat Quinn and the majority of the committee just very uncomfortably shifted in their seats and laughed displays a sense of insincerity toward my needs and my disparities and inequities as a person of color,” Ureña said.

Almost all of those who attended the meeting, both students and administrators, were white. Ureña, as a queer, transgender  person of color (QTPOC), said they do “not necessarily” feel heard.

“UMass as a whole lacks in diversity and so creating a place where people of color can thrive is always an issue,” Ureña said. “Even the committee itself is very racially unequal. Thus far, I’ve only seen one committee member of color—and that’s Julia Mahlala—and I don’t believe she’s on the committee herself.”

Ureña went on to explain the importance of this particular bathroom.

“As a queer, trans person of color, my average life expectancy is 32 years, meaning that that meeting could’ve potentially served as my 62.5 percent life crisis,” Ureña said. “As a trans person, I have six times the risk of a urinary tract infection and that not receiving proper…access to bathrooms is a risky, risky business procedure as a QTPOC.”

 

Rebecca Duke Wiesenberg can be reached at rdukewiesenb@umass.edu.

Comments
One Response to “Variance for bathroom still up in the air”
  1. Stephanie Higgins says:

    Was the inclusion of “this person uses they/them pronouns” and indirect way of sayig that the quoted person is transgender? A bit distanced language here and it’s not entirely necessary to understand what the people quoted were saying.

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