Fall 2021, from a tired nonbinary adjunct
There are ten student-accessible all-gender restrooms on the campus I taught at in person for fall 2021. As in, there are ten toilets total. Four of them are in the main administrative building, the southernmost point on campus (and two of those are in part of the building generally reserved for athletics, where other students likely won’t be wandering in). One is newly-converted from a binary-gender restroom in the computer lab (thank you, Facilities!), housed in the building right next door to main admin. Another is in the building across from it, in the southwest corner of campus; this stall is the only one I can think of that is easily located and just off a very open space. Two small satellite-campus/early college program buildings in the far northeast corner contain one each, though they’re only likely to be used by students in those programs and sometimes require a faculty keycard for entry. The final two are housed in a single academic building in the far northwest corner. Something like five buildings—that make up the heart (and center!) of campus—have no gender-neutral restrooms available to students. From any of those buildings, including the performing arts center and the library, you’re likely looking at at least a five-minute walk, round-trip, to the nearest all-gender stall.
Oh, and that information isn’t actually housed anywhere. They aren’t labeled on a map. Faculty and admin aren’t told where students can find these stalls. Students definitely aren’t told. In fact, the only reason I can point you at ten stalls (only eight of which are realistically accessible to most abled students) is because for the first five weeks of the fall semester, I spent my hundred-minute breaks between classes poking my head into buildings and offices to look for them.
See, I didn’t know where I could actually go to the bathroom, and if I didn’t know, I figured my nonbinary students didn’t, either.
In the spring, I hope to pursue a meeting with CGCC’s president and potentially our Title IX Coordinator. This absolutely is an access issue, especially since we still live in a world where some mean-spirited teachers sneer at students who are gone for “too long” when using the restroom. (Per my students, we also still live in a world where English teachers dock points for using singular they. Love to see it.) Many of the all-gender stalls we do have also aren’t appropriately accessible for disabled people, especially wheelchair users. None of them are labeled as all-gender restrooms, either—even faculty who can point at one or two stalls are introduced to them as “family restrooms,” which are another important addition to campus but that should realistically include some kind of lactation/pumping station and extra counter space. These don’t.
Once I had the locations of actually usable restrooms in hand (and in my students’ hands), I found that without a project to keep me occupied during that hundred-minute break, the trauma of teaching in-person when we very much shouldn’t be teaching in-person started hitting harder, rooting itself deeper and deeper within my body. Instead of roaming campus asking questions, I’d go out to my car and dissociate for an hour or more, as entering the shared adjunct workspace next door to my morning classroom seemed ludicrously risky lest I or a colleague have picked up any COVID-tinged particles that day. Multiple confirmed cases in my classes pulled us online at various points throughout the semester. Those students who missed significant class time due to illness expressed to me they were having a hard time catching back up on work. It wasn’t because of my own late work policy (which was “I’ll take everything but three assignments through Week 16”) but because other faculty refused to be flexible, requiring absurd turnaround times from students who had only just recovered from significant illness. Many of my students were working full-time or significant part-time jobs, often in high-risk, public-facing roles. Many were also caring for family members, attending funerals, and mourning loved ones, all while trying to complete their coursework and (often) maintain full-time enrollment so they qualified for financial aid. And while none of these experiences are truly unique to this year, they’re happening more frequently, and that requires more grace.
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My students, whether they finished out with us or dropped, passed or failed, were extraordinary in every way. They brought their wonderful selves to class week after week, virtually or in-person. They wrote thoughtful, earnest responses to questions I asked them, especially when their answer was “I don’t know.” Even when they were weeks behind on assignments, they showed up to class, often asking for guidance on how best to approach catching up. (My advice? “Stay current on what we’re doing now, and build the rest in as you go.”) When we needed to sidetrack because the real world intruded on our class time, we did. When I had to cancel a planned assignment because it wouldn’t fit into how our schedule was playing out in real time, everyone got full credit rather than taking those expected points off the table. The absence policy was simple: “if you can’t make it, let me know. Even if you can’t let me know for a few days because you’re too sick to get to a computer.”
And they excelled. No matter what that looked like for each of them—and it did look a little different for each of them—every student showed growth and progress. Even as I’m immensely proud of them, though, I am also enraged on their behalf at the conditions they had to fulfill or outlast. None of them should have to deal with teachers who are so inflexible on deadlines they have to drop everything to get a slew of work turned in or face an insurmountable string of zeroes. None of them should be forced to rewrite an entire paper because an English teacher chooses to ignore the dictionary and penalizes singular they. None of them should be thanking me profusely because I let them turn (most) things in on a timeframe that worked best with their lives and struggles.
And I am enraged on their behalf because I should not be seeing other faculty, colleagues or no, complaining about them on Twitter and Facebook. Regardless of the absolute bullshit admin puts us through, whining that your students used your new, flexible policies to actually engage in your class in ways that were healthier for them is disrespectful not only because you’re openly complaining about your students in a public or semi-public forum but also because you’re assuming that whatever was complicating their lives and challenging their routines this semester was less important than your classes should be. And while I’ve only ever taught at the community college level, experience has overwhelmingly proved the opposite—for many of my students, school is always near or at the top of their priority lists, and when it slips a few places, it is almost always because they’re going through something that, when they tell me about it, makes me go, “PLEASE take the time you need! We’ll work together on a path through the rest of the semester when you’re ready.”
None of these kids owed me profuse thanks at any time this semester. None of them needed to be sugary and polite when navigating their own late work. None of them needed to tell me the whole story of what was going on with them, either. As long as I knew they were coming back and still wanted to finish, that was good with me. And it breaks my heart to see other teachers demanding deference and cowering from students because the conditions under which we teach—in which our administrations fail to protect us and often prefer to outright exploit us—are indeed immense workloads, but instead of placing blame where it’s due, they’d rather blame our students.
We do not get to decide that some of our students are worthy of flexibility while others are not. We may see increased need in one area and react accordingly, but to talk down on students because you see their absences or late work as less worthy is just continuing the academic legacy of gatekeeping anyone who visibly struggles.
Our students deserve better than that. Especially when some of them don’t even know where they can find a bathroom.
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