Students demand bathroom accountability

By Rebecca Duke Wiesenberg

(Kate Mitchell / Daily Collegian)

Students, faculty and administration gathered to discuss why the sign for the first-floor bathroom in Baker Hall was changed from “gender-inclusive” to just for “women.”

Held in the University of Massachusetts Commonwealth Honors College Event Hall by the University Bathroom and Restroom Committee on Tuesday, the town hall-style meeting was intended to address why the bathroom—which is on the Spectrum LGBTQIA and Ally Floor in Baker—was re-signed and any steps that can be taken to resolve the issue.

Jean MacKimmie, Director of Residence Education for UMass Residential Life, led the meeting, beginning with an apology.

“We should have and could have communicated with members of the community last spring,” MacKimmie said. “I believe there are things that could’ve been done differently.”

She then went on to explain that not only had that specific bathroom been out of compliance with the Commonwealth of Massachusetts Plumbing Code for the past year and a half, but that the University has been intending to comply with code.

“We knew all along that we were going to change it,” MacKimmie said.

However, MacKimmie did state that last week the committee proposed to file a variance to renovate the bathroom, i.e., lengthening the stalls to reach from floor to ceiling, in order to appease both students and the state. The variance will be submitted by the end of this month. Students were then invited to submit testimony for the variance hearing, as well as advised to contact Student Legal Services.

Students questioned the committee’s intentions behind the re-signing of the bathroom.

“Why couldn’t we continue to not be in compliance,” Marina Franc, a senior chemistry major who uses she/her pronouns, asked.

Sibelle Grise, a senior French and Francophone and social thought and political economy double major and Spectrum community resident, wanted to know what penalties were there for not complying to code.

MacKimmie responded that a lack of compliance would result in financial fines for the University.

“When do we become worth spending money on,” Luke James, a junior electrical engineering major who uses they/them pronouns, said.

Helen Woods, a junior elementary, theater and education major who uses they/them pronouns, felt that the committee—and the University by extension—were not viewing this issue with a humanitarian lens.

“When you talk to us as students, we’re not just a bunch of numbers; we’re actual people,” Woods said.

Justin Kilian, a former UMass student who uses she/her pronouns, questioned who the committee is serving.

“Who is this bathroom an issue for? It’s not an issue with trans students,” Kilian said.

As the committee continued to attempt to respond to students’ questions and concerns, tensions rose, and students became increasingly frustrated and discontented.

“When are we going to get legitimate answers,” Bridget Reilly, a junior public health major who uses they/them pronouns, demanded of the committee.

To hold the committee accountable, the attending students proposed for committee meetings to be well-advertised and accessible to students affected, and for the minutes from each meeting to be released to the public.

“You broke our trust,” Kilian said. “Y’all have shown that this is not a priority.”

“The only reason I’m still at UMass is because of that bathroom,” Robin Zollner said, a junior chemical engineering major and former Spectrum resident who uses he/him pronouns.

Rebecca Duke Wiesenberg can be reached at [email protected]