Q&A on the Bathroom Equity Movement With Tyler Shambaugh ‘23

Why is bathroom equity important to you?

I think access to bathrooms is a pretty simple human right that is overlooked sometimes. And, from my experiences as a trans person, not always feeling comfortable in bathrooms or comfortable going to the bathroom, it’s really made me realize just how simple it is to go use the bathroom. And yet, sometimes there are situations where I feel like I’m not able to. So, I think it’s important to make sure that everyone is able to have all their basic human needs met, where they sometimes are not.

What is your experience at Bates with bathroom equity and ability to access and use bathrooms comfortably?

I came out as [trangender] my junior year. When I started advocating for myself to use the correct bathrooms I realized that it was harder than I thought it would be. I spent the first two years [of college] going into women’s bathrooms because I was just like, might as well. I wasn’t out or anything, so I just did it. But then, when I started wanting to make the change and not do that, I realized there are very few non-gendered bathrooms especially in dorms. 

I experienced a situation in my dorm, Junior year, when I basically asked if we could figure out a solution to have a gender neutral bathroom on my floor. And it did not end up happening. And I’ve talked to people who have experienced a similar problem in dorms that relate to not being able to have a gender neutral bathroom on their floor. 

I’ve got to the point where I’m comfortable using the men’s bathroom or something like that if it’s closer. But for some people who might not feel comfortable, they have to, for example in Commons, go up to the second floor and to the end of the hallway to find a bathroom that is gender neutral. It’s out of the way, which is not equitable.

What are your goals for bathroom equity moving forward?

Our short term goals are to really spread awareness and get more students in on understanding what we’re talking about. In general, I think there are some people who don’t even really think about using the bathroom. If you’re cis and walk into a bathroom, your gender presence isn’t questioned, then you’re not going to really think about that access. And so, I think bringing a little more awareness to not only gender neutral bathrooms, but also bathrooms that are actually accessible for people with disabilities. A lot of [bathrooms] on campus that are labeled as such are not… 

Another short term goal is making sure that there is, in every building, a gender neutral bathroom and one that is accessible. Our more long term goals are to make that more equitable where they are in locations that are easier to access. So you don’t have to, like walk a couple floors up when you’re in class.

How are you and others working to spread awareness?

We’re hoping to do a day of action of some sort… either through temporarily changing bathrooms on certain floors to gender neutral and showing that it can work, or having a panel or a space for more people to share their experiences. 

I think also there are a lot of staff and faculty who are on board with this and want to help and sometimes don’t know how. So, I think we’re trying to find the right people who could make the changes such as signage or things like that, and find ways to get them into the room to talk about it as well. 

If you could get Bates to do one thing for bathroom equity, what would that be?

Change the signage of one of the floors in PGill, like the first floor, to gender neutral bathrooms. Currently, there’s no precedent of having multi-stalled bathrooms being non-gendered, but I think that’s totally a possibility. And, if you change one of the floors, there will still be floors that [have] gendered bathrooms.

Also working with [Residential Life] to change their policy about how dorm bathrooms are gendered or not gendered. Currently, they try to make it a democratic process where everyone has a say, but unfortunately sometimes people’s needs are different. And so, maybe making sure that when you fill out the form for housing each year there is something marking down if you would prefer gendered or non-gendered bathrooms so that there will be some sort of way of determining how bathrooms are gendered before people are in a situation where they realize they don’t have access to what they want or need.

Are there cost barriers?

There shouldn’t be, at least for signage. If we eventually want to do some more structural changes about bathrooms, especially when trying to make them more accessible, that would cost more money. But that can be a little bit of a long term goal happening in the next two or so years. It’s something that is such a basic need, I think it is something that [Bates] should prioritize in funding.

What would accessible bathrooms look like at Bates? 

This is definitely something I don’t have as much experience as someone who is an able-bodied person. But going through this I’ve learned a lot from other people. Bates has really heavy doors for bathrooms, which, if you are unable to open it…could be an initial barrier to even getting into the bathroom.