Two weeks ago I interviewed two wonderful human beings: Jake Mahr ‘17 and Em Rubey ‘18. Em is the Media and Outreach LGBTQ Initiatives intern. Jake Mahr contributes zines to the Center for Women’s Studies. Both Jake and Em are Lambda leaders. Lambda is a student-run organization meant to give agency to LGBTQ people in the space by not making assumptions or subjecting people to gender binaries. Jake, Em, and other members of Lambda gathered to make engaging and thought-provoking posters raising awareness about the lack of gender neutral bathrooms on this campus. Although the posters were quickly taken down, they sparked conversation that we all should continue to engage in. Hopefully the poster campaign and this blog post are just the first steps in an ongoing dialogue for Colgate.
Ashleandra Opoku: Can you speak about the poster and what sparked the campaign?
Jake Mahr: Lambda has been steadily growing this semester which is great; in that growth we have seen an expansion with identities and fluidity.The growth is great, but we still live in a world and a campus that has very strict ideals and normative systems. Gender should be something we are all be able to choose, but that is not always the case.
Em Rubey: For me personally, one of the things that started the bathroom campaign is that we do not have many gender inclusive bathrooms on campus. The fact is that people who have identities that do not match up with men or women’s or even whose expression do not look like the stereotypical man or woman are unsafe to use a bathroom just because their identity does not fit into that box. They cannot use the bathroom or they risk being harassed or assaulted in that space. It is really important that everyone can use a bathroom in a building where they go to school, and it seems like a really simple request to me. The posters went up as a way to begin a conversation where people start thinking on how bathrooms affect people whose identities are not in the mainstream binary.
Ashleandra: What was it like speaking to administration about this campaign?
Jake: Change does happen on this campus when you get a good unification of students and faculty. After the posters went up, we emailed a set of administrators in various position from a couple deans, vice president, to people to work in facilities, people that work equity and diversity. It laid out some general steps that we hope to see in the future, we just want to make sure that no matter where anyone is on campus, where they are living, where they study, or what department they are in, they don’t have to worry about their safety every time they use the restroom. It hard to be student when you go to the restroom and you are not sure which restroom to use. It’s a stressful situation to be unsure which restroom to use or to feel as if the outside world is imposing a gender on you that is not your identity.
Em: I know that right now there are 15 gender neutral stalls out of 218 gender bathroom stalls on campus. That means only seven percent of the bathrooms on campus are gender inclusive. We sent several emails back and forth between deans and administrators just to say this is what we are doing. We also explained how gender diversity is not appreciated on our campus. We need bathrooms and spaces to use in all of the buildings on campus.
Ashleandra: What do you want people to gain from the campaign?
Jake: We also emailed a lot of people we consider to be allies or advocates on this campus, including other students, student groups, faculty members and some administrators. They were all supportive, and there was a lot of positive feedback. We had professors who reached out who said they would love to talk about it in classes, which I see as an important part to this.
Em: I want people to gain a deeper understanding of how gender is socially constructed because gender is so ingrained in our society that people do not even realize that the reason they are a man or a women is because they were told that the minute they were born. I want people to be able to understand more of the complexities of gender and what it means to be a man and women and the fact that these ideas of gender are not real, yet they do have very real consequences on people. I want students to think about the gender binary and the way it does not fit for everyone and how it is enforced upon all of us. There are many gender identities and gender expressions in the world and at Colgate; these identities need to be recognized and honored.
Jake: The ultimate goal for the posters was to get people to start having conversations. Whether or not people felt uncomfortable was not a concern of mine because we feel uncomfortable by the signs that are on the bathroom. It is kind of easy for people to say, well, we have a gender neutral restroom in the Center for Women’s Studies and we have some in other academic buildings. Sometimes people advertise it as a positive thing, making it seem as if the institution is actually doing something, but we forget to still be critical and to remember that it is not as great as it could be. I want people to just know that students around them are affected by this on a daily basis, and we can’t just sit silently and continue to ignore it.
Ashleandra: Do you see yourself continuing this campaign next year?
Jake: Yeah, on this campus, this thing happens where someone will bring up an issue and people will acknowledge the problem, and then everyone will sort of forget about it. I am sure we can always find ways to disrupt that.’
Em: Whether that be through poster campaigns or other events such as working to promote Drag Ball during Queerfest, which is another sort of gender-bending event on campus -- yes, I definitely see this being a continuous process because obviously putting up some posters in the bathroom is not going to immediately open up everyone's mind. However, it is a start. This year a lot of our members have expressed concerns about gender and how it does not really make sense to them and does not really go with themselves personally and how they live in the world. So gender has been a bigger conversation in those spaces but we all exist outside of the Rainbow Room, a room reserved for Lambda meetings as a safe space, so those conversations must be and should be happening outside of Lambda.
Gender inclusive restrooms are most accessible way to guarantee we all use the bathroom safely. For more info check out these articles. Lastly, I want to thank both Jake and Em for letting me interview them. Let’s continue the conversation, continue to resist, and continue to challenge ourselves. With love from your favorite blogger.
- Ashleandra Opoku '17, Multicultural & LGBTQ Affairs Intern