New toilets criticized in e-mails

by Beacon Staff • September 26, 2007

Gender-neutral status was given to 21 campus bathrooms that were formerly one-person special needs stalls in the Walker Building, Little Building and the first floor of Piano Row.,Emerson's conversion to coed bathrooms has some conservative critics pining for halcyon days when bathrooms were known as "little boy's" and "little girl's" rooms.

Gender-neutral status was given to 21 campus bathrooms that were formerly one-person special needs stalls in the Walker Building, Little Building and the first floor of Piano Row. The change was cosmetic, as plaques with familiar male and female designation were replaced this summer by plaques with symbols for both genders and wheelchair-access symbol.

The move sparked negative reactions in three anonymous e-mail messages to Emerson's Office of Academic Affairs and a spat of criticism from bloggers and others since a Sept 1. Boston Globe article detailed the move.

The e-mails questioned the motivation and politics of the bathrooms' new designations.

"Are YOU PEOPLE FOR REAL? Now where you pee is being used for your political correctness? So any guy can walk in and be part of what used to be considered private while you are on the toilet? Is there any place where a straight female can get away from your political games?" said one of the anonymous e-mails provided to The Beacon by Emerson's public affairs office.

Female Emerson students, however, said they are not offended by the switch.

"Either way, you're going into a single room with a lock and a toilet. It's really not a big deal," said Kristina Blanchflower, a sophomore film major.

David Rosen, Emerson's vice president of public affairs, said the relative dearth of negative reactions received by the college indicates most people support the move to bathroom gender neutrality.

"This is an exceedingly small number of responses. I usually get a dozen responses of one kind or another to most e-mail blasts, even non-controversial ones," he said. "It is clear that most people either agree with the sensible action taken or don't care one way or the other. People who agree or don't care rarely comment."

Criticism of Emerson's new bathrooms, however, has not been limited to angry e-mails. Conservative blogs picked up the story after it appeared in the Globe.

Blogger Jack Coleman of CapeCodToday.com, a Cape Cod news site, satirized the Globe report in a Sept. 3 post in his media blog. He predicted outrage over lavatory trysts and the toilet seat etiquette and hygiene of male students.

"File this one under, seemed like a good idea at the time," he wrote. "Emerson College's new policy of gender-neutral bathrooms has led to unforeseen difficulties that have angered female students. Among the worst offenses is the tendency of male students who don't put down the toilet seat and leave behind urine stains." Coleman caricatured junior writing, literature and publishing major Jessica Ganon, who was quoted in the BostonGlobe report, suggesting she would regret fighting for bathroom gender neutrality.

"They also track their muddy, filthy sneakers into the bathrooms. Omigod, it's like, they're so immature," Coleman attributed to Ganon in his parody.

As a former president of the Emerson' Alliance for Gays, Lesbians and Everyone, Ganon said she has grown accustomed to criticism when asked for a response.

"It's not a question of maturity or immaturity," she said. "It's a question of us not giving [transgender students] a chance. Last year, as president of EAGLE, I dealt with a lot of criticism, but that's what happens when you're in politics. I take it with a grain of salt."

A Google.com search of blogs containing "Emerson" and "bathrooms" nets seven negative reactions, and just one positive reaction from Bostonist.com, a local culture and news Web site, among the first 10 entries.

At the conservative nerepublican.com, a blogger called Optimistic Patriot criticized Emerson for accommodating "every fringe group that demands a silly right." Politixblog.net ran a reaction to the issue under the headline "Things That Make My Head Explode: Gender-Neutral Bathrooms."

The reaction from Emerson students, however, has been less vitriolic. Sophomore acting major Michael McNamara said he welcomes the unobtrusive change.

"If it makes some students in our community more comfortable then I'm all for it," he said. "But I'd pee anywhere, be it a gender-neutral or men's bathroom."