TMU Student Union campaigns for safer, more accessible washrooms

25 September 2023 / by Owen Thompson

Editor’s Note: This story discusses sexualized violence. 

Toronto Metropolitan University’s (TMU) student union is campaigning for “better washrooms” with increased accessibility.

The student union started petitioning for the Better Washroom campaign on Sept. 11. They have four major goals that they want to achieve to improve the washrooms across the campus. On the student union website, they list out the goals they hope to achieve with this campaign: they wish to have more all-gender washrooms, increased safety features in every bathroom stall and universally accessible design for all future built washrooms, lastly a few quality of life improvements.

Sam DeFranco, TMU Student Union coordinator and the Centre for Safer Sex and Sexual violence support, has seen and heard the issues the washrooms face. They say that the union took the time to find out what the students wanted so they would have a clear plan when students came back for the Fall 2023 semester.

“What we’ve been hearing from students is that there are a lot of serious concerns. Especially in Ker Hall,” says DeFranco. “A lot of times the bathrooms are in dangerous areas, down a little hallway in the middle of nowhere. Then when you finally do get there, there’s like a single light bulb hanging from the ceiling, there’s stuff all over the floor, students find needles and that the accessibility buttons don’t work.”

On the TMU campus there are 45 all-gender single stall washrooms. The Student Learning Centre and Ted Rogers School of management having one on every floor. The library has one on the 4th, 6th, 7th, 8th and 10th floor. Defranco says that there should be more available on campus.

“We did a full mapping of the bathrooms. We found that there were buildings across the board where even if they had one all-gender bathroom, it would be a 15 minute walk away or was locked,” says Defranco. “A lot of the time you have to call someone to request the key to the all-gender bathroom. That seems excessive and unnecessary when we could just have washrooms that are available for people that need them.”

In the new buildings on the campus, washrooms do have improved accessibility and safety buttons while the older buildings do not.

The campaign’s roots started in the spring following incidents that happened in fall 2022 semester at TMU. Safety concerns in the washrooms became more prominent after a TMU student was sexually assaulted in one of the washrooms.

“When we had those incidents at Kerr Hall, people would come to my office and to the union in general and say, ‘I don’t feel safe,’” says DeFranco. “The only solution that the university seemed to find was increased policing and security presence…we want to just have bathrooms where there is not that opportunity. Where [people] are a lot safer, and where there are solutions in case.”

To increase safety, the student union wants ceiling to floor stalls, better lighting and safety buttons for ease of access. Defranco says that most washrooms do not have a safety button in the washroom and if they do they are outside of the stalls.

To observe the situation, CJTM went into multiple washrooms on campus. In Kerr Hall, CJTM found broken or loose stall locks in a few washrooms, while in some washrooms the lighting barely reached the stall. CJTM only found safety buttons in washrooms of the newer buildings on campus.

“If you’re around someone that you don’t feel safe with, bringing out your phone and dialling security and saying, ‘Hello, I don’t feel safe.’ That’s going to escalate the situation immediately,” says DeFanco. “Same thing with if there is a single panic button, which a lot of them don’t have any. If there is one, it’s in the general area, so you’re out there, you’re washing your hands with somebody [in the room] and you’re like ‘oh, I don’t feel safe, I am going run across the room and hit this panic button.’ It might take security 10 minutes to get there.”

Part of the campaign hopes to change building policy when it comes to accessible washrooms. The student union wants the university to introduce a policy that ensures universal design for washrooms going forward. Universal design includes things such as consistently working door buttons and wider doors and rooms to accommodate mobility devices.

“Realistically, we’re not expecting the university to renovate every bathroom in the school immediately. That’s why the idea is to put this more in policy so that going forward, we’re going to make bathrooms that are designed better.” says DeFranco. “It actually does not cost that much more to have bathrooms that are better when you’re first making them. Obviously, renovating costs a bit more. But if you’re designing them right the first time, in the long run, it ends up being cheaper, because you don’t have to renovate them again.”

CJTM reached out to TMU for comment regarding the Better Washroom Campaign. They have yet to respond.

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