Op-Ed: “No Bathroom Breaks” Policy is Discriminatory

Originally Posted on Whitman Wire via UWIRE

Over the past semester, I have heard from several friends that professors in different departments across campus don’t allow students to excuse themselves to use the restroom during class. Some announce this policy during the first week of class, while others confront students who use the restroom about their bathroom use after class, or generally create an environment in which students feel pressured not to use the restroom and shamed when they do. As far as I am aware, this policy is not written into syllabuses, but enforced informally.

Explicit or not, I find any policy restricting students from leaving the classroom to use the restroom to be inappropriate, inconsiderate and discriminatory. There are a lot of reasons to be frustrated with this policy, but I take issue with three main aspects.

First and foremost, no professor should ever deny students the agency to care for their own bodies. In a country that has a long history of controlling the bodies of marginalized groups, we must be more thoughtful about the ways that policies like this one perpetuate domination of and discrimination against certain groups. We must affirm that everyone has a right to bodily autonomy, and that decisions about care for our own bodies should not be governed by someone else.

Second, professors should respect the privacy of their students, and recognize that there are a variety of chronic and acute medical conditions with which a student may attend class, but need to use the restroom with more frequency. Many of these are experienced at a higher rate or exclusively by female-bodied people, such as pre-menstrual syndrome, urinary tract infections, mensuration, pregnancy, menopause and endometriosis, suggesting that this policy tends to target female-bodied students. Regardless of sex, students should never be forced to disclose private medical information to their professors in order to be able to use the restroom freely and without shame.

Finally, the assertion that leaving the classroom to use the restroom is distracting and disrupting to the class is illogical, or at least centered on professors’ needs rather than the needs of the students. It is much more distracting to be physically uncomfortable during class than for students to quietly leave and enter the classroom occasionally.

I believe this policy is discriminatory, but it is at the very least inconsiderate, and ultimately contrary to the college’s expressed mission. College students are adults and should be treated as such.

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