Bathroom sexism

Photo courtesy of Blake Israel

It is no secret that being a female student at Tech has its drawbacks. You can’t safely go off campus alone at night, the dating scene often leaves something to be desired, you have to carefully monitor your drinks at parties and you are often still one of just a few women in a room full of men. 

Although the  everyday experience as a woman at Tech may not overwhelmingly remind you of the imbalance in the gender ratio of students or of how recently women were not admitted to the Institute, there are some quirks of the past that serve as important reminders of how women at Tech have been treated as an afterthought.

Almost every female student that has searched for the women’s restroom in D.M. Smith has had to venture into the basement of the building to find the bathroom. Once inside, the strange room feels like a utility closet that was repurposed into a women’s bathroom, with the strange single locking stall behind the first door into the room.

Every single time I had to venture into D.M. Smith’s creepy basement to find this bathroom, I was reminded that there was a time where I would not be able to be where I am today, as an engineering student, simply because of my gender. With many of the on-campus dormitories being built before women were allowed to be undergraduate students, they were built with men in mind. Almost every single communal women’s bathroom in the dormitories on campus has a wall dedicated to urinals, a piece of plumbing that is completely useless to the vast majority of the female undergraduate population.

The demographics of students that were present at the time things were being built around campus literally impacted the spaces that women are now designated to inhabit. For female freshmen living in communal dorms, this means every time they go to take a shower or use the restroom they are reminded that the space they are in was not built for them.

For many of us, this seems like a time long, long ago, but this is simply not the case. Tech very recently published an official timeline of the history of the Institute on the news section of its media website. The first female undergraduate student was not enrolled until 1952; two of whom graduated in 1956. These first women were only allowed to take classes that were not offered for women at other institutions. It was not until 1968 that the Board of Regents allowed women to enroll in any classes or programs at Tech. 

The fact that 2022 was the 70th anniversary of women being enrolled as undergraduates at the Institute should remind us all that the time women were barred from institutions like Tech was not lifetimes ago. It was, for many of us, during the childhood of our grandparents. The legacy of a culture where women were not seen as equal to men in the world of academia lives on, through the architecture of old buildings and the history of the people that inhabited them. 

These remnants of how the world used to be often go unnoticed by those who would have been able to inhabit that world unimpacted. However, for me, I’m tired of peeing in the basement.