Editorial: Tufts’ inconsistent restroom policy

The elephant head statue that adorns the entrance to Dowling Hall, home of the Career Center, is pictured on Aug 20, 2014. Nicholas Pfosi / The Tufts Daily Archive

While the 2017–18 academic year marks an important and long-awaited step towards gender inclusivity with the institution of an all-gender housing policy, it can only successfully be accomplished in tandem with a gender-neutral bathroom policy. Tufts’ Office of Equal Opportunity (OEO) provides a map of all-gender bathrooms on campus, and it is easy to spot the inconsistencies and gaps in where they are needed.

The only cohesive bathroom policy, which is far from comprehensive or satisfactory, is found on the Tufts Residential Life website which designates restrooms as a “common” spaces along with kitchens, porches, lobbies, stairways, etc. Additionally, each residential hall specifies who may use which bathroom on its web page, but is not always accurate. Carmichael Hall, for example, is said to have two single-sex bathrooms on each floor according to its webpage, but in actuality has all-gender bathrooms throughout the entire building. 

Other residential halls, such as West Hall, held an informal vote to decide how to delegate bathrooms which is a good way to customize the allocation of bathrooms to the residents’ needs, but can deeply divide the residential community if done without thought. Students sitting in a circle in their residential hall’s common room raising their hand for or against all-gender bathrooms, as some halls have done, is far from legitimate. Tufts should ensure that students can vote for their bathroom preferences without social pressure and fear of retribution via secret ballot. Once the ballots are counted, the resulting allocation of bathrooms should ensure that everyone — from individuals who may seek modesty and who may feel uncomfortable with individuals of different genders in the same restroom, to gender non-conforming individuals who seek inclusivity — is protected and provided bathrooms according to their comfort level. At the very minimum, there should be one gender-neutral restroom in each residence hall. The remaining allocation should be left up to the students in each hall.

One example of a good bathroom policy was instituted by Oberlin College. The policy tries to minimize discomfort and provide each student with at least one bathroom in their residence hall that fits their comfort level. Oberlin first designates at least one all-gender or “E” (for everyone) bathroom in each residential hall with two or more bathrooms and encourages an equal number and distribution of all-gender bathrooms for residential halls with more than three bathrooms. This is merely a minimum standard from which each residence hall conducts a secure anonymous vote that asks each student to select each bathroom designation they would feel comfortable using.

While it is encouraging that Tufts has been working over the years to make its residential spaces more inclusive to everyone, administrators remember that academic and social spaces are equally important. Students and staff have consistently highlighted the lack of gender-neutral bathrooms in the Mayer Campus Center and Dowling Hall as a problem. Although there is now an all-gender restroom in Dowling Hall, the Campus Center remains without one. Gender inclusivity should be more than just an initiative taken up by those whom it affects — it should be a campus culture and a clear policy to guide change. Only then can Tufts consistently be inclusive to all.

Editor’s Note: This editorial uses the terms gender-neutral and all-gender with the intention of gender-neutral referring to the ideal situation and all-gender referring to the sources in which this term was used. In the past, the Daily has used the terms interchangeably to refer to bathrooms but will continue to practice the uses as identified here in the future.