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Saturday, June 15, 2024

Men’s restrooms still outnumber women’s in STEM buildings

The bathroom inequality stands for something bigger − a clear gender bias within the field

Fewer women’s restrooms in UF STEM buildings lead some women to question whether they belong in a male-dominated field.

Ginger Lucas, a 22-year-old nuclear science senior, said the lack of equal restrooms bothers her but pushes her even further to prove her capabilities to others.

“It’s just a minor inconvenience and sort of irritation,” Lucas said. “Like a reminder of the past, of how things used to be.”

Five STEM buildings at UF have significantly fewer women’s toilets than men’s — the Nuclear Sciences and Percy Reed labs, the Animal Sciences and Mechanical/Aerospace Engineering B buildings and Winston Little Hall. Not only do some women struggle to find a restroom in these buildings, but some say it points to a larger issue in STEM.

Exploring the gender ratio within a department− about 5:1 female to male in the animal sciences department− the history of the university as an all-male military college, and the time the building was constructed are all important factors to consider in getting to the heart of the matter.

“This was so ingrained into our culture− that women shouldn’t be in STEM or weren’t capable of STEM-related fields, so it’s kind of a reminder and almost a motivation to me,” she said.

There are five men’s bathrooms and four women’s bathrooms in the Nuclear Sciences building, according to UF’s Building Services. But the difference in the number of stalls within the bathrooms is where the problem lies.

Distributed within the four women’s bathrooms are nine stalls. In contrast, there are 12 male stalls and 12 urinals among the five men’s bathroom spaces in the building − doubling the amount of men’s restroom space.

Women make up 48% of all workers in the U.S. but only 27% of STEM workers, according to the 2019 United States Census.

Lucas knows she is a minority, but her love for nuclear science overpowers her doubt. However, she can’t deny her frustration with the lack of basic resources for females, especially in the Nuclear Sciences building.

Lucas sometimes struggles to find a bathroom in the Nuclear Sciences building, especially if she is on the fourth floor, which only has a men’s bathroom.

Because of subtle daily reminders like the lack of equal restroom space for men and women, Lucas finds herself questioning her identity as a woman in STEM.

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“All of the hard work that I put in toward just being in this profession, or major,” she said, “sometimes you can misplace your sense of self-worth based on how hard you work and the things that you’re getting out of it.” 

UF acknowledged some buildings on campus that are a product of their time and were built when male students outnumbered female students, prior to the existence of inclusivity standards, according to a statement written by the university. 

Still, UF is working to modernize the campus.

“UF’s Department of Planning, Design, and Construction will continue to work with design teams to update and renew facilities and ensure that all of our buildings are inclusive and meet current standards,” UF’s Director of Strategic Communications Hessy Fernandez wrote in an email.

As of now, UF does not have a time frame for the renovations.

Nuclear science senior Kaylee Cunningham, 22, expressed similar sentiments to Lucas. The bathrooms do inconvenience her, but she is more focused on fighting everyday battles in STEM like gaining the same respect her male counterparts give to one another.

“It’s kind of ingrained in our minds that we’re lucky to even be here,” Cunningham said.

At times, she feels that it’s an exception that she and her female peers are even at a university learning nuclear science. That belief discourages her from making demands like an equal number of restrooms.

But that feeling doesn’t make the struggle to find a restroom in some STEM buildings any less real for Cunningham.

In Summer 2021, Cunningham did research on the third floor of the Materials Engineering Building and recounts times when she had to stop her experiment altogether and run to the second floor to use a women’s restroom, as the third floor only has a men’s bathroom. 

“We think of a restroom that is easily accessible as a privilege, but most humans consider that a basic human need,” Cunningham said.

But, not every female in the STEM field feels that they are at a disadvantage because of their gender.

Saundra Hodge TenBroeck, a UF’s Department of Animal Sciences associate professor, said that people must be logical when considering why the ratio of toilets in the few STEM buildings is the way it is.

She has never had an issue as a female faculty member waiting on a toilet in the Animal Sciences Building, which has eight female toilets, seven male toilets and eight male urinals. Bathrooms are the least of TenBroeck’s worries.

“If you are looking for exploring gender inequality in STEM, there are bigger fish to fry,” she wrote in an email.

To some however, the lack of bathrooms serves as a reminder of the larger women’s issues in STEM.

Francisco Correia, a 19-year-old chemical engineering sophomore, was shocked to learn about the difference in the number of stalls in some UF buildings but after considering the substantially lower number of women in the STEM field, it made sense to him.

“I think that women in STEM probably already feel like they’re in the minority,” Correia said, “and that reminder of having less bathrooms is just putting salt into the wounds.”

Contact Lily Kino at Follow her on Twitter @lily_kino

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Lily Kino

Lily is a third-year journalism major with a concentration in environmental science covering criminal justice for The Alligator. Last semester, she served as the Santa Fe reporter. When she's not writing, you can find Lily on a nature walk, eating Domino's Pizza or spending time with her friends.

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