Wednesday, March 2, 2016

The Battle Over Bathrooms: Why We Need Gender-Inclusive Bathrooms at Colgate

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


17 comments:

  1. Until I read this post, I hadn't thought very deeply about how it would feel to have gendered spaces like the bathroom make someone feel uncomfortable on a daily basis. Gendering common spaces is unnecessary, and I really appreciate the goal of this movement on our campus.

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  2. I really liked how Em noted, "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". It is great that the conversations are happening within certain groups and spaces, but that will not necessarily make the change. The movement for gender neutral bathrooms must have a much wider scope in order to make this entire campus inclusive and safe for everyone, regardless of gender/gender expression. We are all human, and we all need to use the bathroom, so this is something that absolutely should not be a source of anxiety. In my opinion, separate bathrooms are not at all necessary.

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  3. I think bringing these conversations into the classroom would really help to bring about change. Before reading this blogpost, I had no idea about the efforts that students were making to create gender neutral bathrooms. I completely support this campaign and I think that these online posts need to be advertised much more. I agree with the fact that nobody should feel uncomfortable using the bathroom because of something that society has created and that a lot of other students would too.

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  4. Our society is so trapped by the gender binary, its an aspect of so many areas of our lives. It's a box we tick off on every single application we have ever filled out and we rarely ever think about it. We don't think about the people that can't simply tick off a box. I think that gender inclusive bathrooms are a small step in the right direction, but there is so much more to be done especially at Colgate.

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  5. I really like what Em said concerning bringing conversations of gender identity outside of the rainbow room. I think that certain topics of conversation can sometimes be just as closeted as people's personal identities. Creating dialogues like this all around campus is incredibly important because it normalizes these conversations instead of making them seem othered. Talking about gender expression and identity should be as common as talking about the upcoming presidential election.

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  6. I agree that it is extremely important to talk about this topic of conversation in the classroom as well as in dialogue with friends. I think many students don't understand the privilege they have of feeling comfortable using restrooms and we should start normalizing, as Leah said, the conversation that not everybody has that privilege and that more gender neutral bathrooms should exist on campus. I think creating the posters was a great to start but I believe a better way to create the conversations is making more student group's on campus address this issue in their general meetings in order to expand the conversation to many different groups of students.

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  7. Katharine LukaszewiczMarch 7, 2016 at 8:33 AM

    I agree that bringing up these issues in every day conversation is essential. I saw the posters, and they really got me thinking and encouraged me to discuss them with my peers. Without things like posters, these topics rarely get discussed by the general public, and therefore are ignored. I think asking teachers to talk about these issues in class is a great idea, because more students will be have a safe place to voice concerns and reflect on their own gender stereotypes. Without people targeting these issues and specifically bringing them up, they will continue to be ignored, which will uphold a gender binary that does not apply to everyone.

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  8. I think the idea of comfort is really important. Most of the hostility toward gender-inclusive restrooms that I've seen stems from people claiming that they would feel uncomfortable in a gender-neutral restroom; these people say that their comfort is worth just as much as anyone's and they are more comfortable with the gendered restrooms currently in use. The key difference, though, is that people who are uncomfortable with gender-neutral restrooms feel that way because they are stuck in a binary and myopic view of gender: gendered restrooms are just their personal preference. The discomfort of people whose gender identities or expressions don't match the signs on the bathroom doors, on the other hand, is justified by a threat of violence. Safety should be valued more than the comfort of personal preference. The posters and classroom discussions are great ways to get people talking and thinking about the social construction of gender and the violence it perpetuates.

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  9. Getting the word out and having others understand why its important for gender neutral people to have access to gender neutral bathrooms is essential. I've heard many people on this campus complain that if there is gender neutral bathrooms their privacy in the bathroom would be compromised and then they would feel uncomfortable. But I think its important for them to recognize the discomfort that many gender neutral people go through everyday in even deciding what bathroom to use. My friend goes to Oberlin and there every single bathroom is gender neutral. She said it was hard at first to get used to showering next to boys and going to the bathroom next to boys but she says now its second nature. She couldn't care less. People need to understand the advantage of gender neutral bathrooms and not be afraid to embrace something they think may be uncomfortable.

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  11. What Jake said about people bringing up a problem on campus, talking about it, then forgetting about it is something that I have seen and also bothers me. It seems like poster campaigns are great ways to bring issues to the forefront of dialogue and has been successful to bring up gender-inclusive bathrooms. Sustaining dialogue and action around this issue can also be tied in with any other conversations surrounding the gender binary, so I hope to see this linked with other conversations around campus that question why we have been accepting some of these norms that do not include and threaten some identities.

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  12. I think that many people on this campus have the privilege of living in a state of ignorance when it comes to gender and comfort with gender. No person should have their comfort prioritized. This kind of situation vaguely reminds me of the segregation that once existed between races, and I am sure that at that time, there was pushback against thoughts of integration due to the notion of making white people uncomfortable. The discomfort that came with sharing a water fountain with the opposite race in some ways mirrors the discomfort that comes with gender neutral bathrooms to the cisgendered. We now stand in the same place, pushing back at including one group for fear of making the privileged majority live with some discomfort.

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  13. As someone who feels doesn't identify with any gender it's sometimes difficult for me to step into either the men or women's restroom because I don't fit in in either of them. The gender-inclusive bathrooms help because I don't have to make the decision that day on whether I should make myself feel uncomfortable.

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    2. *As someone who doesn't identify

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  14. Before reading this blog post, I had seen the few gender-inclusive bathrooms that we have on campus but hadn't thought about the issue very much. In thinking more deeply about it, it would obviously be extremely difficult for a person who does not conform to the gender binary to choose to use either the men's or women's bathroom. I am taken aback a bit by the fact that I hadn't realized this sooner. Gender-inclusive bathrooms seem like an easy way to make LGBTQ individuals more comfortable on campus and I cannot understand why anyone would be opposed.

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  15. This article was really enlightening - I had no idea that the ratio of gender-inclusive to gendered bathrooms was so unequal - reporting the actual number definitely pronounced the stark contrast. I think the inclusivity at Colgate could be improved so much, and these gender-neutral bathrooms would be a big step forward in that fight.

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