A plea for bathroom reform

By ilad Skolnick

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About a week ago at around 3 a.m., I entered my empty bathroom to brush my teeth and perhaps even go all out and floss, when I saw a female from my floor enter the bathroom and go into one of the stalls. She came out of the stall and we both exited the bathroom. It was strange. She was well aware that she was in the wrong restroom and it didn’t bother her. For some odd reason, I was not ashamed, embarrassed or uncomfortable to have a female in my presence when I brushed my teeth.

The bathroom is one of the more touchy subjects in our society. So touchy that people are always looking for a different word to call it. It’s been called the restroom, powder room, lavatory, the loo, water closet, the john, and, apparently in Montreal, they simply call it the toilet.

Still segregating the sexes in this day and age, the bathrooms use a separate but equal philosophy. Many would argue though that a great injustice in the bathroom structure lies in our society, and thus, I call for a bathroom reform.

I do not ask for the soap dispenser to be filled regularly or for toilet paper that is thick enough so that I can’t see through it, as that would be too much to ask of the cash strapped institution of the University of Massachusetts. What I ask for is something that requires a new way of thinking – perhaps as one would say – outside the box. What I ask for is a relaxation on the rules regarding bathroom usage.

Several semesters ago, transgender students began to protest the bathroom situation at UMass, demanding gender-neutral bathrooms in many dorms. This was so students who do not identify with their assigned gender at birth or with either gender could feel comfortable entering the bathrooms without going into the “wrong” bathroom. This movement filled The Massachusetts Daily Collegian with many columns for and against doing so, along with a table that was always manned by someone in the Campus Center. Since then, the movement for a “restroom revolution” to transform the way we think about bathrooms has died down, either due to the UMass administration’s unwillingness to bend or lack of energy and time.

Often I find male bathrooms to be empty while a long line stretched out the door from female bathrooms. This is due to the evident fact that males are quicker than females at relieving themselves; yet, whenever bathrooms are built, both the female and male bathrooms are built of an equal size.

Not only would gender-neutral bathrooms help students make it to the bathroom in urgent times when the capacity of their bladder was poorly judged, it would result in shorter lines for girls in small bathrooms and make brushing the teeth a more friendly environment. Maybe it would even end the smell of urine in some halls and globs of toothpaste in water fountains by those who are desperate for co-ed teeth brushing.

Currently, if you walk into the “wrong” bathroom to brush your teeth, you could be subjected to being “written up,” which can lead to being kicked out of the dorms. I am not suggesting for co-ed group showers or a nudist dorm, but rather relaxing some of the more archaic rules. Many times I have witnessed people experiencing difficulty in making it to “their” bathrooms on time, often due to alcohol or other reasons. Should they risk the explosion of their bladder rather than go into the “wrong” bathroom? Should they relieve themselves in public rather than go to the closest bathroom?

Just several decades ago, UMass dorms were either all-female or all-male, and females could attend a male dorm only one Sunday a month, in which case the dormitory room door had to stay open and three feet had to be on the ground at all time. Today’s co-ed dorms are an idea that was unheard of at that time, an idea as strange as co-ed bathrooms are today. Today, schools such as Harvard University and the University of New Hampshire, as well as many others, have co-ed bathrooms with no problems.

At UMass, sexual assault does remain a problem and an issue that needs to be dealt with. The fact is that gender-specific bathrooms have not shown in the past to prevent sexual assaults and a perpetrator is not prevented from entering such a bathroom simply by a “no men allowed” sign. Statistically, most assaults on women are not done by complete strangers, but rather by someone that the victim already knew. By creating gender-neutral bathrooms, a greater number of people would be allowed to enter these facilities, making them less empty and isolated.

Residence halls should be able to vote in a fair and democratic system if they want to have gender-neutral restroom facilities. Women and men should each be able to vote if they want to make their own bathrooms gender-neutral, with a minimum number of gender-specific bathrooms in each building.

Fifty years ago, women wearing men’s clothing, such as pants, was taboo and unthinkable, and co-ed gym classes was an inconceivable concept. Imagine how ridiculous a notion those ideas must have been then. I don’t think society will crumble now if we allow all genders to use the same bathrooms in college. Gender segregated bathrooms are an example of an attempt to hold onto the past, but we are in a new age of equality. Why not create some equally accessible bathrooms?

Gilad Skolnick is a Collegian columnist.