Oberlin Blogs

What's that about the bathrooms?

May 31, 2009

Zoe McLaughlin ’11

You may or may not have heard that the bathrooms are gender-neutral at Oberlin. This may or may not concern you, your parents, or someone else whom you hold dear. I'm here to tell you that I fell into the first camp: gender-neutral bathrooms worried me. I wasn't sure about sharing a bathroom with boys, despite the arguments for gender-neutral bathrooms. (Which, basically, say that gender-neutral bathrooms eliminate the problem of making a choice as to which bathroom you're supposed to use, making everyone a bit more comfortable. It's a pretty good argument.)

When people talk about gender-neutral bathrooms, they sometimes leave out the fact that you get to vote as a hall whether or not you want gender neutral bathrooms, so if you don't want them, they're not a given. There are also compromises that can be made, for example, having the toilets gender-neutral but not the showers, or having the bathroom gender-neutral only at certain times of the day.

My freshman year, I lived in Dascomb, a first year dorm. We voted to make the two bathrooms on our floor gender-neutral, with the knowledge that the floor below us had voted not to have their bathrooms gender-neutral. This way, if you weren't comfortable with gender-neutral bathrooms, you could just go down a floor.

Like I said before, I wasn't completely sold on the idea of gender-neutral bathrooms, but I gave them a try, and they turned out not to be an issue for me. There's really nothing too terrible about walking into a bathroom and seeing a guy. The toilet stalls (of course) lock, and the shower curtains (of course) go all the way across the stall. And, due to where the bathrooms are placed, it's often more convenient to have gender-neutral bathrooms, so you don't have to hike all over the building to find a bathroom, especially when you're visiting friends.

This past year, as you probably know by now, I lived on the women's hall of Asia House. Since it was an all-female hall, we voted to make the bathroom women only, leaving the other bathrooms in the house gender-neutral. I felt just as comfortable with this arrangement as I had the year before and, again, it provided a place for people to go if they weren't comfortable with gender-neutral bathrooms.

So the moral of this story is that gender-neutral bathrooms aren't as scary as they sound. I've stopped thinking that they're anything out of the ordinary. Also, if--once you've given them a chance--you find that they're not your thing, there are other options readily available.
On a completely different topic, please feel free to comment with questions you have about anything to do with Oberlin. It's the summer, and I'm at home, so I could always use some topics for new entries.

Responses to this Entry

Having recently graduated, the lack of all-gender bathrooms outside of Oberlin is one of the starkest reminders of my being gone. I'm going to miss the strong community developed by not having hangups about being nude in proximity to those of other genders and the support of people who don't fit in to the gender binary.

Posted by: Anonymous on June 2, 2009 1:13 PM

I'm a mom of a prospective student who might be interested in the double major of music and English. So why did you pick to attend Oberlin? How do you like to make music? What sources of information would you recommend for us to use to get an idea of what it is like to be a student at Oberli? Thanks for your advice.

Posted by: Kathy Buchholz on June 11, 2009 11:11 AM

Ahh!!! Well, your entry made me feel more comfortable with gender-neutral bathrooms. So, thanks.
The "Ahh!!!" was about something... different.
I don't know how much you care about helping us poor, uninformed highschool seniors, but I am in dire need of advice. How do I decide which college is right for me?

(I am interested in English/Creative Writing)

Posted by: Bridget Gibbons on July 9, 2009 12:33 AM

Really, really tough question, Bridget. That's something I struggled with a lot senior year. I wrote a bit about my decision process here, but one thing I can say since you seem to know what sort of major you're interested in is that going to visit colleges is a really helpful thing. It's hard to get a vibe from the campus in only a short visit, but it definitely helps.

If you have more questions, feel free to let me know!

Posted by: Zoë on July 10, 2009 12:43 AM

Hello! I'm an incoming freshman who was placed in Barrows. I was wondering if you knew anything about Barrows. How does it compare to Dascomb? Did you ever visit Barrows your freshman year? What was it like? Is it fun? More or less fun than Dascomb? Is it a good location? Just wondering! Thanks!

Posted by: Anonymous on July 25, 2009 5:16 PM

I'd say that there's a fair amount of mixing between people from Barrows and people from Dascomb. My freshman year, my group of friends definitely included people from Barrows. I will say that we spent more of our time in Dascomb, but then again, there were groups that were the other way around.

As for which is more fun, a lot of that has to do with who ends up in which dorm, and where your friends are. However, I'd say the two are pretty comparable.

Location-wise, Barrows is on North Campus, close to Stevenson (one of the dining halls) and very close to the Science Center. From there, it's not that far to any of the other main buildings on campus, so yes, Barrows has a good location.

Hope that helps!

Posted by: Zoë on July 26, 2009 1:55 PM

I would like to ask about the French house if you know anything about the bathrooms in there. I will be a Teacher Assistant at Oberlin this year and to be honest... although I am not comfortable with the idea of co-ed bathrooms, I can still accept it but what about the showers? are they co-ed as well?

Posted by: Marwa on July 31, 2010 9:05 PM

I am not sure about what French House bathrooms are like. I'll see if I can ask around and find out for you.

Posted by: Zoë on August 3, 2010 12:21 PM

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