Kirk segregation is the best solution

By Nick Shlafer

When Kirk Hall announced that it was doing away with unisex bathrooms, I predicted a considerable backlash from students. Sure enough, last week in the Weekly, two opinion articles and a staff editorial were written to criticize this administrative decision. I would like to respond to these articles with the assertion that segregated bathrooms are not only practical but necessary.First of all, there is nothing contradictory about segregated bathrooms in a dorm with gender-blind housing. Bathrooms are public and must therefore be shared by everyone on a floor, whereas with housing, you can pick your roommate and actively make a choice to either live in a gender-blind room or not.

The main argument I hear, though, is that the decision is disrespectful to the transgender community; those who cannot identify with being either male or female no longer have a bathroom to choose. In other words, certain people feel “uncomfortable” with segregated bathrooms, and we should therefore respect their rights and attempt not to offend them.

On the other hand, there are also students who clearly feel “uncomfortable” with unisex bathrooms. These students have gone to the RAs with their complaints over the years, and they have done so privately to apparently avoid being chastised. Parents have also gotten involved, further signifying the relative importance of this issue and that it has been both ongoing and under-the-radar. On a campus that supposedly prides itself on tolerance, the fact that these students could not go public with their complaints is worrisome to me.

So, there are indeed two groups of offended students in regards to the bathrooms. Since the change occurred at all, the group that is uncomfortable with gender-blind bathrooms is clearly either much larger in number or much more significant to Macalester than those with an opposing view. With this in mind, why do certain people feel that the transgender group deserves more respect and recognition of their rights? Why should we cater to them and ignore the other group of students?

Weighing the negative effects of the “offensive” action for both groups further validates the segregation. For those who complained about the unisex situation, they felt threatened and had their privacy violated. Students critical of the recent decision have reacted to such feelings in an almost conceited manner, telling the threatened individuals that they should simply learn to handle it. Danni Sigwalt provided the most flagrant example of this superior attitude in last week’s issue when she wrote, “Maybe we need to deconstruct why it is, exactly, that the idea of having someone of the ‘opposite’ gender in the bathroom while we’re showering is threatening.” Unfortunately for Danni and others like her, the real world is not a cultural studies classroom in which we get to “deconstruct” everything. It is ridiculous, for example, to assert that a girl who is creeped out by guys in the same bathroom as her can just change her mind through critical analysis. Most of us cannot control our ideas and attitudes toward issues of privacy, and to tell us that we should is completely disrespectful. It’s not up to Danni to judge whether or not people are “justified” in feeling threatened.

Beyond even this level of discomfort, however, there were actual confrontations. Last week, Ola Switala referred to a “night that a student grabbed [another student] as she stepped out of the shower in a towel.” I fail to understand why she and others do not take these incidents seriously, as the frequency of these events is irrelevant. The fact that sexual harassment occurs at all is enough for action to be taken.

I agree that having to essentially assign floors to specific genders is a problem, and I feel for those who have to trudge up and down the stairs every day to take a shower. However, this is a separate issue that deals with the design of Kirk Hall itself. One bathroom per floor, not to mention one shower per floor, feels almost primitive compared to even the worst of the first-year halls. If there’s a cause to be fought here regarding the bathrooms, let’s fight this one. We should question why, after years, the bathrooms have not been renovated and why there is only one per floor. In the meantime, however, we must work with what we have in order to make life as comfortable as possible for the greatest number of students. Segregating the bathrooms, for now, is the best solution.