Tuesday, January 10, 2012

The surprising significance of a restroom

The student machine shop at my undergrad institution had only one bathroom. For a very long time, it was a men’s room.

One of the career staff who ran the shop had a big problem with this. It bothered him tremendously that his male students could use the bathroom right there in the shop while female students had to go out into the hall and use the regular building restroom.

He himself was an older Japanese-American man, and said outright “As a part of a group that’s been discriminated against, I didn’t like having to tell the girls that they had to go out in the hall to use the bathroom.”

He went to the university to change the shop restroom to be unisex. After all, it would only need a lock and a new sign. But, as with anything involving a university and change, there were problems. The red tape wouldn’t end. One of the largest stumbling blocks was the presence of a urinal in the restroom. He eventually convinced the administration that the women using the machine shop were unlikely to come down with the vapors at the sight of a urinal, and eventually, the restroom was made unisex.

This is one of my favorite examples of being a strong ally. He saw discrimination against women, even if many people would have considered it a small issue, and he corrected it. He ensured that he was doing everything possible to make women feel like they belonged in the shop just as much as men did.

I can assure you that it made a lasting impression on this particular female student.

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