Q&A on the Bathroom Equity Movement With Mason Bunker ‘23

Ella Beiser, Assistant Features Editor

How would you explain what bathroom equity is to someone who doesn’t know what it is?

When we’re kids, we’re often taught that the basic needs and the basic human rights are food, water and shelter. And, I think that there’s a lot more components to it. And one of the aspects of it is also the right to hygiene and to use the restroom. And basically practice that form of literal health management. A lot of cisgender, able-bodied people don’t tend to think about accessibility to bathrooms because they’ve never encountered a situation where they haven’t had the ability to comfortably use the restroom. Whereas, for many transgender people, especially ones that don’t align to the binary or just simply don’t feel comfortable for whatever reason, they don’t necessarily want to go into a men’s room or women’s room, they just want to go to a bathroom and ideally one that’s gender-neutral. And then also when we’re talking about bathroom equity, we need to factor in disabled people, because sometimes a bathroom will be labeled accessible when it’s really not… Basically, it’s about letting people use the restroom.

How has your experience at Bates been with bathroom equity and bathroom accessibility?

So, I am transgender. And, I knew that I was transgender. And, I knew how I personally felt about using the bathroom in terms of which ones I wanted to use before I came here and I put in my housing request form that I wanted a gender neutral restroom. So, I was fortunate enough to get that. But, I know that that’s not necessarily the case for everyone. I know a few [transgender] people that have not had access to these restrooms to begin with and then I’ve had to fight for them. Housing doesn’t necessarily make it the easiest process to change your literal accommodations, not just beyond room, but when there’s an actual equity issue. That’s not necessarily the fault of housing that’s just reflective of the processes that we have.

Besides dorm use, how have you found the academic buildings on campus to be accessible for bathroom use?

For the most part, they’re pretty good. And, I would say that the buildings that you wouldn’t think would be good with accessible bathrooms are the ones that are good. Like Carnegie has one of the weirdest insides and floor plans, but every floor has at least one gender neutral restroom on it and they are fairly accessible. Schaeffer and [Pettigrew] are also pretty good about it. Then…Commons has only one gender neutral bathroom, but it’s kind of tucked away on the second floor. You can use it, but you have to leave and then swipe back in. So, I’ve definitely had friends come where I’ve used a guest pass for them or during Thanksgiving break I’ve used my own guest pass, gone out and then tried to come back in, but I have to risk paying again.

What would be the number one thing that Bates could do that would make Bates bathrooms more accessible?

I think one of them biggest things would be [Pettengill] doesn’t actually have a gender neutral restroom inside of it. When I got here as a freshman the website said that it did because there’s …  a room with a toilet and a sink in the women’s room.  I’ve seen it on the floor plans. And that was called gender neutral when I first got here, but you literally had to walk [into the women’s room]. 

What could Residential Life do to make their housing process more transparent and accessible ?

Having greater transparency about which dorms have gender neutral bathrooms, and making sure that those are consistent. And in particular, transgender people need access to gender neutral restrooms in a way that other individuals don’t. Whether that’s gender neutral restrooms, or single-user gender neutral restrooms, it doesn’t matter. I think making clear what houses have gender neutral what dorms have gender neutral bathrooms, and maybe making a button or something that students can click [on the housing form] that says I need access to a gender neutral restroom. 

Why is bathroom equity important?

This feels like kind of a joke answer, but so truly it’s because I like being able to pee and poop and I think that everyone should be able to do that and do so comfortably. Nobody wants to get a UTI and this is a great way to prevent people from getting UTIs, yeah.

Anything I missed?

In 2015 Kinky Boots, the Broadway musical, did a music video called “Just Pee” based off one of their songs that I really enjoy.