Don't let conservative complacency control bathrooms

By Ola Switala

Two weeks ago, I wrote an editorial in The Mac Weekly. Last week, Nick Schlafer accused me of not taking an incident of sexual harassment in the Kirk bathrooms seriously.I’d like to clear up some confusion. By mentioning the incident, I was trying to sarcastically offer examples of safety issues in the restroom. Though it should be widely regarded as ridiculous that newspaper articles, naked ass and sexuality are “dangerous things,” I know full well that some people will never be able to handle the topics assertively.

For the record, the victim in the incident to which I alluded was harassed continually. Her harasser accosted her more than once in the hall in an attempt to make her drop her towel en route to the bathroom. On one occasion, he tried to break into her room because he knew she was undressing. The forceful student habitually harassed my friend regardless of where she was.

Some fail to notice that the act of sexual harassment is not inherently attributable to any gender, sexual orientation or location on this campus. Regardless of a sign change in bathrooms, sexual harassment can continue, tacitly or not, among students. Segregating dorm bathrooms by floor makes the trip from the “appropriate” restroom to their dorm room a long trip. Such trips in towels could possibly make harassment all the more tempting to individuals who would like to see half naked people strolling through the hall. People with fetishes for men, women and genderqueers in towels will continue to be pleased, if not better facilitated by this arrangement. There is no ideal arrangement because every arrangement is made on sexual assumptions that cannot apply to everyone.

What I wanted to call attention to was the fact that it’s ridiculous to tell students that their building is gender open and then resegregate the bathrooms with no student input (especially in buildings as strictly partitioned as those in Kirk). When Schlafer defends the rights of “some” Macalester students, he fails to notice that the changes that these students demand destroy the possibility of equal rights for other students who fought to achieve them. Residential life should have been smarter than to demand that students who wanted gender-open bathrooms to be corralled into a reiteration of bathroom status quo. If students feel uncomfortable about other genders in their restrooms, they have the option of visiting one of the over 50 gendered bathrooms on this campus. Students who want to avoid normalization now have the option of going to the basement to do business.

Students who are uncomfortable with progressive bathroom assignments actively refuse to divest of their gender privilege. They refuse to empathize with the identity crises that transgendered individuals may feel on a daily basis when silly signs force their bodies into disciplined spaces. Transgender students are a minority at Mac. Conservative complacency is trying to legitimate segregated bathrooms because certain males and females who have never in their life felt odd for using the “naturally” gendered bathrooms feel discomfort.

We are seeing a time when male and female students can’t stomach hearing the splatter of the opposite urine in the next stall. These students have repressed the primal peeing of their mothers, fathers and guardians. These students are seeing positive changes that stand the chance of benefiting the many traded off for the benefit of the powerful spoiled few who have never experienced an instance of not getting their way.

Macalester, please reconsider what it would mean to be above having to segregate bathrooms by gender. Please do not refuse to empathize with people whose needs are hardly ever met with the same respect as your own outside of this liberal arts setting. We could all try to be a little gender-blind.

Contact Ola Switala ’09 at
[email protected]