Back to Normal, Not Back in Time

By Ronja Boer

Collage by Amal

Soon after a new school year started, the Amsterdam University College’s Student Council posted a question in the AUC Facebook group that seemed to worry some students. The question: should the toilets in the Academic Building remain gender neutral?

Most students currently studying at AUC have never experienced the Academic Building before the Covid-crisis. Bustling hallways, students studying in the halls and chatting in the cafeteria. These days, things at the Academic Building seem almost back to normal, with more and more restrictions being eased. However, students are fighting for one measure implemented during the Covid crisis to remain the way it is: the ungendered toilets.

During the heat of the pandemic, AUC decided to remove all bathroom doors to minimize contact, and to make all the bathrooms gender neutral. Before, only two toilets on the second floor were ungendered. This way, students and staff could go to the nearest toilet without passing by others, instead of potentially increasing contact by needing to find one that corresponded with their gender identity. Where most rules in the building felt restricting, this particular rule was  welcomed with open arms by many. Most students do not even know the Academic Building with gendered toilets. This has prompted students to ask, why revoke this measure?

This discussion started on September 16, when the Student Council posted a poll in AUC’s Facebook group to do inventory on student opinions. After the poll was posted, students seemed confused by the question, as no one from the student body had expressed any desire to remove the gender neutral toilets to their knowledge. Only the options in favor of keeping gender neutral toilets were chosen and in the end no one was publicly opposed to all gender neutral bathrooms. Though this looked like a conclusive outcome — the gender neutral toilets were here to stay —  some students were worried by the mere suggestion that toilets would become gendered again.

Student Council Poll on Facebook

Then why was the question asked in the first place? Dr. Belinda Stratton, managing director of the AUC Management Team, explains why the Management Team felt it was necessary to do so. She clarifies that both staff and students are largely content with the way toilets are currently structured, as it accommodates those not comfortable with binary gender identifications. However, she states that there are other arguments to consider. 

The first of those is hygiene, Stratton explains. She says that cleaners have noticed their workload has grown since all toilets have become gender neutral. This might be because male toilets are dirtier on average, and since men use all toilets now, all toilet blocks need more cleaning. Another argument is that gender neutral toilets could lead to odor nuisance in the hall, Stratton explains.  She points out that if the toilets remain gender neutral, the blocks would continue to be without doors, “because the hand washing and drying facility is not inside the individual lockable stalls but communal, and so this should be open”. Lastly, Stratton stresses that some students are simply more comfortable using designated toilets, instead of ungendered ones.

Since the poll was posted, unrest among the student body grew. One of those concerned students was Memet Polat, a second year Humanities major who identifies as trans-nonbinary. For them, the idea of the Academic Building without gender neutral toilets would bring back a lot of childhood trauma. “I don’t blame them,” they state, “but cis people just don’t understand the feeling.” 

Others point out that having solely gender neutral toilet blocks would not be fully inclusive either. Jana Thistle, a second year Science major, elaborates on the comment she left under the Facebook poll. “When posting my comment, I was in full support of keeping gender neutral bathrooms, but urged the importance of gendered bathrooms.” she writes, “This is primarily because at AUC there will always be students like me coming from cultures where the idea of gender neutral bathrooms may come as a shock.” 

An anonymous first year student agrees with Jana. They state that though gender neutral bathrooms are important, gendered bathrooms should be available to ensure full inclusivity. However, they also point out that going back to how bathrooms were divided before the pandemic would be “an uncomfortable solution.” They continue, “I know it is really hard for people who are non-binary or trans that would have to go up to that one specific bathroom that is only for them.”

In response to the growing concerns among students, the Student Council came out with a statement to address concerns. They stated that they were aware of the sensitivity of the topic, and that they merely wanted to gain insight into student’s opinions on the topic. They emphasised that the poll was not meant to lead to a conclusive decision regarding what should happen to the toilet blocks.

Stratton voices the same point. “We have not made a final decision,” she writes. “The responses from both AUC Student Council and Works Council favoured a mixed approach in the building, in other words that we should have both gender neutral toilet blocks and toilet blocks designated for men or women available.” What this would look like is not yet clear. 

Despite initial concerns from students, and despite the lack of a conclusion by management, one thing is certain: no one is considering an Academic Building without gender-neutral options.

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