“I just don’t know how to go to the bathroom in the free world!”
Ray Durem, who allowed his “negro child” to use a white restroom in Texas
Bathrooms, Hygiene & Inequality a closer look at the problem of unclean restrooms at Lee
A number of students and parents are outspokenly disturbed at the condition of the restrooms in the North East Independent School District. Those not loud in their opposition to the uncleanliness are silently against such unhygienic treatment of the student population. The privacy violation of door-less stalls and the nasty atmosphere of toilets left unflushed and of urine on the floor are matched only by the filthy annoyance of the nonexistence of soap and paper-towels to wash and dry one’s hands. Immediately, another dilemma presents itself when one investigates the plight of the students of such schools as Lee High School. For, it is not the case that there are no clean restrooms for the students to use; it is rather that administrators mark clean restrooms with signs such as “Faculty Use Only” or “Gentlemen” or “Ladies.” Inasmuch, as students aren’t allowed to use teacher’s restrooms, it becomes appallingly clear the matter isn’t just a case of the contaminated environment in our school district’s restrooms, but moreover, the inequality in which a solution to such pollution is approached.
As a student of Lee High School, I know first hand the oppression confronting students who attempt to better their quality of cleanliness by using the teacher’s restrooms. On three occasions I have been rudely and loudly reprimanded for my behavior, threatened with office referrals, and sent to the filthy restroom labeled “Boys.” Oh what a sin, indeed, I had committed, feeling my need for a hygienic environment in which to take care of my private business outweighed my observance of the ageist and coercive policies of the school district. What makes students so sub-human that they must be separated from teachers in a code indicative of a pre-Civil Rights Act policy of segregating black and white restrooms? I have heard many answers to this question, but never a right one except, that there is nothing that makes teacher and student restroom segregation anything but immoral.
I have listened to teachers rant about how students are unclean and don’t deserve the right to use teacher’s clean restrooms. Yet, teacher’s should know, nobody should have to earn their opportunity to a clean living, especially when that someone’s presence is compulsory.
Moreover, the logic of the sub-humanity of students seems to suggests the action of locking restrooms so students can’t use them. “If they can’t keep them clean, they can’t use them at all,” seems to be the rationale for closing the “Boys” restrooms at Lee every time they are unfit to use. So I am faced with the dilemma of walking half way around the school to find a restroom that for all I know might also be locked, missing at least fifteen minutes of class or I can go to the teacher’s restroom which is nearby and never locked. Which would you choose? I have listened with impatience as teachers contended that it would be unfair to the teachers if students were allowed to use teacher’s restrooms. I then, in a polite a tone as I can muster, ask them if it was unfair to white that blacks were allowed to use their restrooms after the Civil Rights Act of 1964. As they looked stumped I continue, adding the fact that blacks were quite unclean with their restrooms and whites, of coarse, had good cause to not want them to use their restrooms.
Teachers are then stuck in the position of defending anti-black policies and the pre-Civil Rights era of racism or supporting my motion to de-segregate the schools restrooms. Usually, they concede my correctness or say the comparison is absurd.
Yet, ageism, racism, sexism, and other arbitrary discriminations fueled by irrational hatreds are equal in their diminishment of human dignity. Why don’t administrators care about the unfairness to those quite responsible and deservingly-clean students who must use the filthy restrooms made unclean by a portion of the student population.
Teachers then begin to see this is not just a matter of cleanliness but a matter of morality. The ethical obligation to stop the ageist, separatist, and elitist policies of the school must be considered and corrected before a solution to the uncleanliness of the restrooms can ever be fully reached.
Sadly, open-minded teachers don’t make law in the top-heavy administration of the North East Independent School District and thus, they are not the ones who need to be convinced. Change, if possible, is to be created by those outspoken parents who refuse to let their children be treated with degradation and are willing to protest for what they believe. I know of one parent, who has forced the administration of Lee High School to allow her child to use the teacher’s restrooms. This is a noble cause to which we should all participate. Once we make all restrooms for all people then we will analyze the recommendations to clean up our restrooms. For “our” will mean everyone.