ResLife designates multi-stall bathrooms in Carmichael as gender-specific, following confusion

A women's bathroom door is pictured here on Oct. 3. A student had previously posted a makeshift gender-neutral sign, which has since been removed. (Seohyun Shim / The Tufts Daily)

The Office of Residential Life and Learning (ResLife) has designated all multi-stall restrooms in Carmichael Hall as gender-specific, and all single-stall restrooms as gender-neutral. The change was announced in a Sept. 19 email from ResLife, according to Community Development Advisors (CDAs) Jayanth Dabbi and Nick Kamkari.

This decision came after confusion arose at the beginning of the school year about which restrooms people should use, according to Dabbi and Kamkari.

In spite of the email from ResLife trying to clarify the situation, some residents of Carmichael Hall have generally chosen to treat the bathrooms as all-gender, reverting to the status quo before the email.

Dabbi, one of the CDAs on the second floor of Carmichael, explained that from the beginning of the year, there was confusion on many floors over the bathroom policy. He and other CDAs tried to resolve confusion through voting, and each floor tried to implement its own arrangement. Residents on the first and second floors agreed on gender-neutral bathrooms, Dabbi and Kamkari said.

“My floor was pretty unanimous,” Dabbi, a junior, said. “We’re all just kind of spread all over the place … so having gender-neutral would mean anyone who identifies any way can use the bathroom closest to them and ideally be as comfortable as they can be.”

Dabbi also wanted to provide a forum for people who did not feel comfortable with gender-neutral bathrooms to express their concerns, and asked residents to email him.

Ian Seerung, a resident of the second floor of Carmichael, said the results of the floor vote meant that both of the floor’s two multi-use bathrooms would be gender-neutral. However, Seerung was surprised when he received the email from ResLife that multi-use bathrooms would now be assigned genders.

“I personally was very confused because I had just heard nothing about it,” Seerung, a sophomore, said. “I sent an email to ResLife an hour after ResLife sent [their] email … I thought it was ridiculous that we weren’t told [what had] happened.”

However, Seerung said that, soon after residents received the email, they chose to ignore the policy. Students of all genders continue to use both of the second floor’s multi-use bathrooms.

“After 2 days, people have been using whatever bathroom,” he said.

Claire Freeman, a sophomore, described a similar situation on the third floor, where she lives. At the beginning of the year, Claire Freeman explained, one bathroom was gender-neutral and the other was designated exclusively for female-identifying residents, after a third floor resident created a makeshift sign. She added that shortly after students received the email, students agreed they would continue with the original arrangement.

“The policy didn’t change anything,” she said. “I don’t know how ResLife decided to make the decision.”

Seerung added that he felt as though student voices were left out of the process.

“I also think [this] is a discussion that we should all be a part of it and it shouldn’t be out of nowhere,” he said.

Associate Director of Residential Education Sarah D’Annolfo, however, said ResLife came to the decision to make multi-stall bathrooms gender-specific by listening to the concerns of CDAs and students.

“Specifically, residents of Carmichael reached out to me and to others of us directly with some questions, some concerns [and] some desires indicated,” D’Annolfo said.

D’Annolfo explained that, when ResLife was made aware of these concerns, the department sought to consider why this problem emerged. In the past, according to D’Annolfo, males and females were assigned to different wings of the floor and the bathroom corresponded to the wing’s designated gender.

ResLife then began working with LGBT Center Director Hope Freeman and Residential Facilities to create a short-term solution and to facilitate an ongoing conversation about serving transgender and gender non-conforming students, according to D’Annolfo.

“I, on behalf of the group that worked on what is a short-term solution for Carmichael, sent out an email to residents to say here is where we are right now and to invite conversation with residents who are interested in what should and could a next step look like,” D’Annolfo said.

Hope Freeman explained that, during ResLife’s process, her recommendation was to designate every Carmichael bathroom as all-gender, and offer single-stall bathrooms for additional privacy.

“It’s important to know that there were a lot of perspectives considered when crafting the bathroom policy currently in place at [Carmichael],” she said. “My recommendation was considered, but ultimately it was decided to segregate the bathrooms by gender and have the single stall restrooms, of course, be for single person use.”

While not all students involved with Carmichael’s bathrooms were satisfied with the outcome of the decision, Dabbi and Kamkari said that ResLife played an important role in clarifying confusion.

“There were a lot of surveys through Google Forms and Qualtrics … There was sort of an inherent tension between all of this because it was so unofficial and nobody really knew what was going on,” Kamkari said. “I think once we had the connection with ResLife that’s when the ball started getting rolling on actually realizing that it was an issue and that we have to have real rules to solve the problem.”

D’Annolfo explained that gender-specified restrooms is a permanent solution in Carmichael unless students want to change this decision. Going forward, ResLife will ensure that there is no confusion on what restrooms residents of Carmichael should use, she said. In particular, ResLife will seek to add more single-stall bathrooms, and continue discussion on how best to serve students, according to D’Annolfo.

“Having people work together and understand the ways in which we might do that is an important goal, and I hope the conversation in Carmichael helps us take steps to move in the right direction,” D’Annolfo said.

Hope Freeman said that, as a more consistent bathroom policy is considered, students should know they have the right to use whichever bathroom best matches their gender identity.

“My official contribution [to the decision] was making sure that students were fully aware they could go into whichever bathroom best suited their gender identity and they would be protected via [the] Tufts anti-discrimination policy,” she said. “Until a more resolute policy is crafted for Carmichael it is important that students know their rights concerning public accommodation at Tufts.”