How far do you have to go to pee? Take a few minutes to think about it and then think about how far you’d have to go if the closest restroom was closed.
For many people on this campus, the answer to the first question is “right down the hallway” though for some folks the answer may be “on the next floor”. For the second question, a number of folks may answer “on the next floor” and, maybe, a few would say “the next building”.
Would that answer change if you were disabled? Would it change if you had a small child you had to take care of? Would it change if you were trans or gender non-conforming?
When it comes to structuring our institutions, things as seemingly small as bathrooms can have a significant affect on the way that folks structure their day-to-day activities and how successful they are able to be during their time at an institution. As a case example, take the Squires student center here at Virginia Tech. If you were a trans person and couldn’t use the public, multi-stall bathrooms without threat of violence where could you go to use the bathroom? In this instance, you would have to go over to the GLC and hope that the door to the bathroom was unlocked (though that may be now fixed) or over to the library to use one of the single occupancy bathrooms. To further this point, how far would a trans person have to walk from, say, Goodwin Hall to find a bathroom they can use? The answer is around 10 minutes.
When students on campus have back-to-back classes and are trans, or disabled, or a combination of this an other identities or needs (people with shy bladders for example) it is necessary to know where the bathrooms are that you can use, know whether or not you’ll be able to drink liquids during a set time or have to risk dehydration, and make other concessions that other folks may never have to consider. When there are campus build projects that insert new obstacles or shift accessible routes, this complicates the structuring that a number of students have to do with their day-to-day activities.
This is a not a phenomenon that is limited to Virginia Tech—it is a global conversation at many institutions and a conversation that is pushing folks to rethink what counts as inclusion. Here at Virginia Tech, for example, it’s not the case that single occupancy bathrooms are available. They are in certain buildings, on certain floors, and in varying levels of ADA compliance. However, they may not be accessible—they may be behind locked doors, too far away, up a staircase, or require a faculty access card.
What then does inclusion mean for institutions? In one sense, it may mean that things are available. In other sense it may mean that things are accessible. But even that may miss the mark: having accessible facilities may be necessary for inclusion but it isn’t sufficient. Rather, what would it look like if by inclusion we were indicating an institution where folks could flourish, be nurtured, and feel that they belong? What would it feel like for students? What would change and what would have to be changed to reach this model?
I don’t have these answers but I do have a challenge—the next time you’re trying to use the bathroom think about how things would be different if you were disabled, had a child, or were trans. One day, try to only use bathrooms that are accessible for disabled folks both by ADA standards and able to be accessed via routes that are accessible. This won’t show you what it is like everyday to be a person with those identities, but it might raise awareness about the limitations in the system and why structural changes are necessary when striving for inclusion.