“Come As You Are”: An Unexpected Return of a Gendered Toilet Block

By Adesholla Bishop, Ronja Boer and Milan Matthes Kale

Collage by Amal

— Upon their return from the recent class-free week, AUC students were greeted with a change in the Academic Building: the main toilet block on the second floor had been fitted with doors and signs that designated them to men and women. Later that Monday the fourth of April, the signs had been replaced by pieces of paper labelled in neon green marker: “Come as you are.”

Photo by Franciszek Dziduch

In a previous article by The Herring, Managing Director Belinda Stratton explained the discussion on the removal of COVID-19 measures and what that would mean for the gender-neutral toilet blocks. The Management Team returned to this discussion in March 2022 and decided to follow the recommendations of the Working Council and the Student Council: to have both gender-specific and gender-neutral toilets. 

“Some staff and students do feel uncomfortable sharing a block with those of a different gender and would welcome a designated toilet block,” writes Stratton about the reasoning behind the final decision. Thus, printed symbols of a figure in a dress and another in trousers were placed outside one block of bathrooms in the AB, intended to demarcate bathrooms for women and men respectively. 

Second-year Social Science major Sasha Sushko, however, disliked the use of these symbols, noting the importance of “deconstructing the idea of a gendered bathroom” and instead phrasing it as “something like ‘female presenting’ and ‘male presenting’.” It is for this reason that she replaced the printed symbols with the phrase ‘come as you are,’ inspired by a doormat she saw in Saint Petersburg: “I loved it because it was such a nice word play,” she says of the phrase, adding that she felt it was also applicable to the bathrooms. Sushko went on to suggest that AUC, which “teaches us that there are more than two genders, should explain what they mean, and why they did this,” noting that putting up a small note with such explanations next to the sign would be “a really nice way of being truly inclusive.”

At the time of putting up the labels, Sushko was unaware that this change was only on the second floor of the AB. She, however, maintains that her change to the signs was appropriate and feels that AUC needed to do more. She does understand why some people may want to have the option to go to a gendered bathroom, and sees no issue with having one set of them, though she believes that the change “should have been officially communicated to us [the student body].”

Another student, who wishes to remain anonymous, shared Sushko’s feelings of disappointment towards how the AUC management decided to handle the whole situation. They explained how they “don’t think anyone will mind one gendered bathroom, and it’s also not really about that single bathroom, but about the way this entire issue has been approached.” This approach was not exclusively about “the lack of communication that one bathroom will become gendered again,” but includes “how this issue was framed” when it was originally raised as a question earlier this academic year — both by AUC management and The Herring. They believe that “omitting the impact these discussions have on trans safety is what allows transphobia to fester but remain invisible.” In response to The Herring’s previous article on this topic they say: “The last article from The Herring […] was somewhat framing the uproar around the bathrooms as out of proportion, that the student council and AUC were ‘just’ inquiring about cleanliness and no one intended to discriminate against genderqueer people at AUC.”

Photo by Ronja Boer

As the link between the Management Team and the student body, Stratton indicates that the Student Council – which was informed on Friday, 25 March of the decision to install one set of gendered toilets – had the opportunity, but was not obligated, to communicate this change to AUC students.

Freya Baker, co-chair of the Student Council, explains that “the Student Council was out of office for the class-free week and hence did not see the email [from the Management Team] until returning on April 4th, the day that the doors were returned to the bathrooms and they became gendered.” On behalf of the Student Council, Baker adds that “we regret that we were not able to make this known to the student body prior to the change coming into effect; however, we also consider it important that we maintain our boundaries between work and time off.”

Despite Sushko’s resistance to the changes, the set of bathrooms influenced by the Management Team’s decision was once again gender-designated through the use of symbols on Wednesday, 6 April. 

“We want the AB to be a safe space for all students, and gender neutral bathrooms are one way that this can be facilitated,” Baker says. Citing potential religious and cultural reasons, she nonetheless adds that “having one set of gendered bathrooms in the AB is also a measure for inclusivity.”

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