December 2, 2003

Letters to the editor: 12.2.03

*Gender neutral bathrooms*

Members of the transgender community and some of their supporters are asking the University to turn a matter of personal responsibility into a matter of public obligation. Instead of being asked to embark on a project of awareness and education, the University is being asked to take a very public and very expensive stance that implicitly admits that tolerance has failed here. Such a position would send a message to those tolerant students that they are a minority. If adopted by the University, this position would perpetuate a culture of victimhood, which implies that problems, as they are perceived, emanate from without and are not constructed within. In demanding that the University provide gender-neutral restrooms, certain members of the transgender community are demanding that the University admit blame whilst atoning in the form of knee-jerk, retroactive activism.

Also, insofar as the University would accommodate this community by providing gender-neutral restrooms, it would support the position that gender identity is, in fact, defined at the door to a restroom. I am inclined to think that gender identity has more going for it than that. The poses and codes adopted by members of the transgender and traditionally gendered communities alike are public and do not rely on restroom insignia for interpretation. Insofar as one adopts any gender type, one is asking to be treated as a member of that gender as such. It should come as no surprise that "people react to your presentation," as was cleverly said by Naomi Sobel. The fact that poses and codes are adopted implies that presentation matters. This is the question of gender, n'est-ce pas?

Finally, there are two separate points relevant to this discussion that ought to be treated with the subtlety they deserve. First, the anecdotal evidence presented in the article is not evidence at all. The concerns of the University community are in question, as is the treatment of its members. As far as I know, there is not a campus-wide threat to the safety of the transgender community, or any community for that matter, as it relates to public restrooms. If there are bias reports that have been filed, let us see the evidence.

Secondly, although sexual preference and gender identity are linked, the two do not operate in tandem and should never be regarded as doing so. Gays, lesbians and transgender persons do not speak in one voice any more than all men or women do. For that matter, Queers & Associates and the Feminist Majority do not speak for all so-called "queers" or "feminists" on campus.One must take all of these points into consideration before rushing into judgment.

Eric Malczewski

Second-year graduate student

in the Masters of Public Policy program

In regards to the issue of transgender bathrooms on campus ("Panel Calls For Neutral Bathrooms" and "Gender Neutral Bathrooms," 11/21/03), I think the following four-word commercial jingle sums up my reaction: "Give me a break." Ana Minyan states that, "our aim is to make everyone...more comfortable;" yet the cost—deemed "negligible" in your editorial without any proof—that is imposed upon "unigender" individuals is largely overlooked. How do we know that the cost (namely, the discomfort felt by "unigender" individuals with the arrangement) is negligible? Even if the cost were small for each individual person, the fact that there are so many "unigender" individuals allows the possibility for an enormous total cost to the University community. This is why your analogy between installing gender neutral restrooms and providing kosher food at Bartlett fails: Jewish students make up a significant portion of the student body (about 15 percent), whereas transgender students do not. Furthermore, having experienced Woodward's experiment with co-ed bathrooms, I can assure you that the cost for some individuals was far from "negligible."

Regardless of one's support for installing gender neutral bathrooms, it is clearly the case that beyond the walls of our nurturing, blissfully disconnected University, these transgender students will be confronted with having to "choose" a gender on a regular basis. It seems that the best way to prepare would be to confront these fears rather than to avoid them; at least during their four years here, these individuals have a peer support group to help them along the way.

There are plenty of discomforts far more significant on campus that could use amelioration, yet the University community and your paper fail even to acknowledge them. To aid the allergic, why don't we tear up the grass on our beloved quads and lay down woodchips instead? Clearly, the reason is that this issue is not politically popular, and does not have the sympathy of one of our campus's centers, pseudo-academic though it may be.

So, break yourself off a piece of get-used-to-it, and make the difficult choice between the caricature with the pants and that with the skirt.

John McAdams

Third-year in the College

*Observation at the Co-Op*

Shopping last week in the Co-Op—the 53rd Street store, at least—I noticed that the cucumbers were labeled "Mexican Cucumbers." This was before Mexican green onions were banned from the U.S. due to the recent hepatitis outbreak.Today, however, I was shopping in this store again and found that the same cucumbers were labeled otherwise. They were called "Southern Cucumbers." I know they were the same sort of cucumbers because they had the same peculiar characteristics, notably a marked thinness.It's clear that the Co-Op is trying to hide the origin of these cucumbers, and I find that decision completely wrong. While these cucumbers may be perfectly safe, it's indisputable—as the recent news shows—that Mexico is capable of exporting tainted produce. If so, Co-Op shoppers ought to know whether their fruits and vegetables come from there.

Michel Santaquilani, A.M. 1997

*European education*

There isn't as much enhancing the "individual" in the American university system as one in Europe might believe ("A French Perspective on American Education," 11/25/03). Florian Ingen-Housz speaks of the dense workload of European institutions and makes a brief statement that the student in an American institution "is not overloaded with work (unless he is at U of C)." Many people have commented that this University is a copy of the famed research institutions of Europe, so I ask is there really the difference that Housz makes?

Students at the University of Chicago and other elite academic institutions around the United States are bombarded with just as much work as those in Europe, and are working for the same merits. Yes, there are more opportunities for extracurricular activities, but personal interest is often sacrificed. There are many times when I have overheard a student stating that he wanted to do something not related to his studies, like read a book for pleasure, but he had too much work or a meeting to attend. College today lacks the leisure of the past, where talks in the middle of the day on contemporary issues could last for hours. Around campus, it seems as those people are more focused on getting to class and completing their work than on advancing their personal interests or engaging in simple pleasures. In this case we should take the French as our example: the French are the ones who take two hours a day for lunch and sit back to take a break. The Americans are the ones with an obsession for time, much different from the French who are rarely on time for anything.

Grant Sabatier

First-year in the College