I want to take you on a tour of the Physics Building on campus. Based on what I found in a brief search online, the current building was opened in 1941. It is still used frequently today for the physics courses all engineers are required to take.
To get to a women’s restroom, you have to follow signs like the one I’ve posted here. Half a dozen of these signs will lead you through numerous hallways, past most of the classrooms, past two men’s restrooms, until finally you reach a women’s room in a barely used hallway. Without the signs, you would probably never find it. Once you’re there, the bathroom itself appears to literally be a closet that was converted into a bathroom.
Here’s why I find this so compelling.
When this building was made over 70 years ago, women were pushed so far out of the picture of STEM fields, the original designer didn’t even need to consider that women would be there at all. There was no thought that a woman might need to be inside a Physics Building.
I want to make it clear that I am not offended by this. I understand that a whole building can’t be remodeled just to add a bathroom in a more convenient place. Rather, I find it somewhat inspiring, motivational even. It shows how far we have come, that women are now in these buildings and taking an active role in STEM fields. Obviously there is a long way to go given current statistics on women in the STEM workforce (an estimated 24% according to the most recent census), but it’s nice to look back and see what steps have been made.
I have also run into a similar bathroom problem in the old Mechanical Engineering Building (Built in 1932). However, it motivates me to know that I am studying in a field that 70 years ago, I would have been seen as unfit for. 70 years ago, the idea of me being in the Mechanical Engineering Building was so unthinkable, they didn’t even include women’s restrooms.
And it’s a comfort to know that when I leave thermodynamics and need to find the bathroom, I can go to the new wing of the Mechanical Engineering Building (Built in 2009) and easily find a women’s room right next to the men’s.
By Lexie Ziolkowski