The U of T Washroom Inclusivity ProjectThe Washroom Inclusivity Project is a unique collaboration of students and staff across equity offices and campus services with the goal of providing clear and updated information about the range of U of T’s current washroom facilities and fostering a safe and inclusive campus community.
We are excited to bring the project to Scarborough and Mississauga campuses. We are in the early planning stages, but stay tuned for more ways to get involved with the project!
We will be offering over volunteer opportunities for students and staff to work together on an inventory of Scarborough and Mississauga campus washrooms in order to highlight single-user facilities, accessibility features, footbaths for students who wash before prayer, and baby change stations to update the online campus map.
All volunteers will have the opportunity to participate in an interactive training session and join a team of volunteers to identify washroom equity features at U of T.
It’s been two weeks since the Washroom Inclusivity Project finished its first phase, with two days of inventory completed and four training sessions well attended. As I sit here reflecting on my time with the project, what really comes up is how I felt during the training sessions, as volunteers were encouraged to go around and share why they were interested in the project.
I heard dozens of people share their passion, their commitment to equity, their well thought out insights about why washroom inclusivity is important. I was in awe. Having worked on the project for 8 months, and becoming so involved with logistics, communications, and all the back end work to make the project run, I must admit my passion for the cause became a bit obstructed.
But that was only until that first training morning, where through others’ reflections, I was reminded of why I care, why it matters to me, and why I am so passionate about equity, community, fairness.
I guess my awe was pretty obvious, as a co-worker came to tell me: “Mari, your eyes were glowing when the volunteers were sharing, and you just had the hugest smile!” Yes, it was hard to hide my enthusiasm.
I am proud to have been part of this wonderful project, and I am excited to see what new opportunities and collaborations may come out of it.
VOLUNTEER REGISTRATION DETAILS
Date: Tuesday, April 29th
For those who have not yet attended the training, the training will begin at 10:00 am.
For those who have already completed the training, the inventory will begin at 12:30 pm.
All volunteers are encouraged to join us for lunch at 12:00 noon.
Both the training and inventory will be held at:
CIE - Centre for International Experience
33 St. George St. (just north of College St on the East side)
Room 102 (Cumberland Room)IMPORTANT: We ask that you please ensure that your phone/tablet/device is fully charged (if applicable) as many of you have indicated that you will be using your device to conduct the washroom inventory. You are also encouraged to bring your charger with you in case you need to recharge your device on the go.
We look forward to seeing you!
The WIP Team
Turns out we are not the only ones busy populating databases with accessible and gender inclusive washrooms. Refuge Restrooms, a US based website about to be launched, plans to have thousands of inclusive washrooms listed.
Other than the cool icon, the best part of this project is that users will be the ones to add listings to the database. We at WIP will make sure to include the data we gather during our Inventory next week. Speaking of which, it’s not too late to sign up to volunteer, and help us map out washrooms at U of T!
As a child of the 90s, I am a big fan of superheroes. They serve an importance by providing children a role model to inspire to be like. With the WIP program, I think we can learn quite a bit from one particular hero… Captain Underpants. In particular, in Attack of the Talking Toilets we see what happens when we do not expect the institution to hold an audit. We go through the years without ever really considering that there are issues with our bathroom, then one day the toilets come alive and start eating people. In the ultimate form of inaccessibility, it takes brave and committed students/heroes such as yourself to stop this from happening. Whether you know it or not, inaccessible bathrooms effects everyone in their own unique ways. People learn from interacting with one another and address the problems that we see. If there is not a forum to address this, there is a ripple effect from students not feeling as though their opinions are valued. If we cannot provide an easy to access map for bathrooms, how can students feel valued amongst their professors and peers? We as a community miss out on some great ideas that students can provide. For all you know, it could be one of these students that rally against talking toilets and that saves millions of lives. So when you consider taking part in helping as map it out, we must consider the long-term influence of our decisions. Think about students within the different groups now, in the future, and the larger community. Let’s look back at our heroes as a child, think about what they would do and I think the decision should be fairly obvious.
Bringing my kids on campus can often turn out to be quite the experience. Like that time I brought my then 3 year old daughter and 1 year old son to accompany while I ran a few quick errands. As soon as we arrive, the 3 year old begins: "Mommy, I have to poo". So we begin the search for a single user washroom. With the two of them in tow, I figured that the privacy and extra space of a single user washroom would make things easier. And so, after some searching, we find one. By then she “really” has to go, and we barely make it in time. As I am assisting her with her business, the one year old starts toddling around the washroom. His first stop: toilet paper roll. His first job: unraveling it. I stop him before he’s done with the roll. A few seconds later, he is licking the outside of the sink. I yell out a NO! and lunge to stop him, almost dropping my daughter inside the toilet bowl (I had been holding her tiny body until then). Luckily, she doesn't fall in. As I washed her hands, I made the mistake of thinking to myself: ”what else could possibly go wrong?” And just then my son finds a shiny yellow strip on the wall and… presses it (the emergency alarm, that is).
So we know U of T can get to be a super stressful place, and even though its pretty cold outside, we still feel the heat of expectations and pressure from the university. If you're into meditation, just like your friendly neighborhood Muslim, try performing ablution before you meditate, like we do! Its called, wu'du in Arabic, and its performed by hundreds if not thousands of fellow U of T students across the campus. The purpose of Wu'du is to physically and spiritually cleanse yourself before you meditate and strive to find that spirituality. Its intent is to calm and cleanse yourself before you go in to pray and/or meditate. The image belowdemonstrates the steps to perform wudu, perform each step 3 times for each limb, and remember, next time you see someone in the washroom with their foot in the tub, they're simply trying to find their spirituality.
We are not the first university to launch a campaign about washrooms on campus and the equity issues involved with them. Our friends at George Brown College recently ran a nice campaign called “Free to Pee”. Focusing on the issues of the transgender community, they came up with some pretty great slogans. Take a look at a couple of my favourite posters from their campaign.
What I love the most about U of T’s Washroom Inclusivity Project is that it integrates a whole bunch of equity areas around one issue. One of the most powerful things I’ve gotten out of my involvement with the project so far is that while there are very unique aspects that are specific to each of the groups we are working directly with (parents, trans people, Muslims and people with accessibility needs), the commonalities and intersections are equally as important. At the end of the day, it really is all about respect.
The most important piece of advice that I ever received is that being perceptive is the most important quality for success. Being able to understand the way that other people experience the world around them is a criminally underappreciated trait. So when relating these notions to the Washroom Inclusivity Project, the biggest struggle we face as a group is getting over the inherent silliness associated with poop and toilets. I am as guilty of this as anyone when I first joined the project. However, there were certain thoughts and circumstances that reoccurred in my head that helped me to quickly understand WIP’s significance. It is very easy to imagine a funny scenario where you’ve run out of toilet paper or accidently broke something and have a hearty laugh about it. Yes, it is embarrassing at the time, but it is not a part of a significant struggle for most people. This mentality becomes more complicated when it relates to one of the groups that the WIP tries to highlight. Take into consideration the anxiety that the transgender community may face if they were told they’re in the “wrong bathroom” or a student parent has trying to find a practical place to change a diaper on campus When you start to think about the issues from this perspective, a supposedly innocent toilet can be seen as a source of frustration. It is these types of considerations and observances that will help all of us achieve a better understanding of washroom inclusivity.
Some people might think that washroom inclusivity is a no brainer, and wonder why it is necessary to keep the discussion of transgender washroom rights active after the 'bathroom bill' has been passed. This morning, as I was trying to figure out what to write about on our blog I saw the following article
With a little searching I found this one debunking it.
The encounter alleged in the first article never happened. The fear that trans women's genitalia is somehow a threat to cis people is a fabrication of cis people's (non trans) imagination. I want to dig into the hoax of the Toronto Star article a little further, it provides an opportunity to examine a few problems that could do with a little bit more open discussion.
In section one the author unquestionably defends the right of trans women to use the women's change room, which is important, but goes on to make two critical mistakes. The first, seemingly small but still very important, is that he says “Transgender women, regardless of their status regarding surgical intervention, have the absolute right to use the women’s change room.” Even though this article is written about an encounter involving women he should have said something like “Transgender people have the absolute right to use the change room of their choice”. It is not necessary to talk about surgeries, and it is really important to include all trans people when discussing rights, not just trans women or men.
A bigger problem though was the following sentence “It’s easy to sympathize with those who are surprised to see male genitalia in a woman’s change room”. The genitalia of a trans woman is, by default, women's genitalia. Some women have a penis, some women have a vagina, if the genitals are attached to a woman then they are a woman's genitals. Full Stop. Let's not talk about this any more.
I am going to leave you with a link to a video by Red Durkin, a comedian who has a number of short videos online specifically addressing trans feminine topics. This one addresses the idea of questioning a womens gender, which is the core of what is happening when cis people fear trans people using the correct washrooms
Gender neutral washrooms are often central in discussions of transgender inclusivity in public spaces. The Washroom Inclusivity Project is no different in this, mapping the location of gender neutral toilets is the most visible manifestation of inclusivity that we can provide. Ensuring these washrooms exist and mapping them out is only the beginning of the discussion though, as part of a broader and more nuanced look at gender inclusivity it is also important to talk about why these facilities exist and how they might become sites of discrimination or of exclusion.
There are two reasons why transgender people will use a gender neutral washroom. The first is that they do not identify as either male or female and are not comfortable entering gendered spaces. The second is that they identify as either male or female but fear the harassment and expulsion that may occur should they be misgendered by other washroom users. In the first case gender neutral washrooms are the perfect solution, in the second they are reinforcing patterns of discrimination. Explicitly or implicitly directing a trans person towards gender neutral washroom undermines the their identity and is an act of exclusion.
In Canada we have legislation that protects transgender peoples choice of washrooms, this legislation is new though, the 'bathroom bill' was only approved by the house of commons in 2013. The University of Toronto supported inclusivity long before this time, and continues to show there conviction to transgender inclusivity through programs like the washroom inclusivity project.