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Yale University

Yale University

As we all know, our country is facing some big issues. Our next president and Congress are going to be burdened with many major decisions. We hope we vote for the right people to make those decisions.

It is almost funny that candidates and the media are debating the public use of bathrooms. Why can’t the government stay out of our bedrooms and bathrooms? Is it too much to hope that common sense will prevail? I hope so, but the roots of bathroom privacy go deep in some cultures.

As we prepare to attend my husband’s 55th college reunion, I was reminded of a reunion weekend at Yale many years ago. We were staying in Philip’s residential college, which he and his roommates had called home.

Now you might think this is absolutely wonderful. We were in the ancient and fabled halls of the Ivy League. Future presidents and world and national leaders had walked these same halls.

Well, think again. These are very old buildings, old hard beds, heavily used furniture, doors that do not lock, windows that do not close or open, steam radiators, stairs only, no elevators and hooks for a closet. I would have been happier in a Motel 6.

We were there for only three nights, and Philip was reliving his youth. He was a happy camper. Plus, I know how to adjust as I was raised one of five children in a one-bathroom house. Flexible and adaptable were a stewardess’ theme in life when I was flying. I have even used those lines in our marriage.

The worst problem, to me, was that several suites of rooms shared a common bathroom at the end of the hall. When Philip attended Yale, it was an all-male school. So having one large bathroom made sense. I think we were lucky that at least it had been remodeled with modern fixtures.

So, early one morning I was getting ready for our day’s activities. I gathered my things and walked down the hall and opened the door to the large bathroom. It had the basic look with a number of sinks in a row and separate enclosed stalls for each toilet and each shower.

But surprise, there was a man standing at a sink shaving. He was naked except for a strategically placed towel around his waist. I said hello and asked if he minded if I took a shower. He mumbled something that sounded like, “OK.”

So, without a second thought, I went to one of the closed stalls, took a shower, put my bathrobe back on and thanked him as I walked out the door. I was a bit surprised that he was still standing at the sink shaving. I later learned he was in the state of shock at having a strange woman walk in on him in the bathroom.

That evening, we attended the class dinner. Philip and I, together with his classmates and their spouses, were seated at long tables for the traditional New England lobster feast. The wine was flowing and everyone was having a good time.

During dinner, I heard a loud male voice from down the table asking for everyone’s attention because he had a funny story to tell about his experience that morning. So we all quieted down. Much to my shock, his story related to his bathroom experience that morning.

He described how a brazen woman came into the bathroom while he was shaving and took a shower. He almost cut his throat, he said. He could not believe that this hussy just walked in and had taken a shower while he was in there. After all, he had claimed first dibs on the bathroom.

Yale had recently become coeducational and he assumed she was one of the new female Yale undergraduates who were working as reunion clerks. The notion that she was the wife of a classmate never seemed to cross his mind. This triggered a discussion about coeducation at Yale, a subject that generated many different opinions. The table really enjoyed the story and the discussion caused a great deal of laughter and other stories.

To this surprised male member of the Class of 1961, this experience seemed to be the biggest thing that had ever happened to him at Yale. I seriously considered getting up and going over to introduce myself, but changed my mind. My husband had a hard time listening to this man go on and on but he kept quiet, too, until there was a pause in the conversation. At that point Philip stood up and told the story of his morning bathroom experience to those at the table.

After I had showered, Philip had tried to enter the same bathroom but found the door locked when he tried to open it. When he knocked, a woman’s voice announced that she would be out in a few minutes. You know how those “few” minutes can add up. She had locked the door to the only bathroom on our floor for her private use. After waiting a while, he gave up and went downstairs.

He told this story so that all at the table could hear it. I think everyone got his point and many may have realized that I was the brazen hussy who had been the subject of the earlier story. We suspected that the woman who had locked the door was the wife of the man who was shaving when I took my shower. If so, these folks were obviously not into sharing bathroom facilities.

Perhaps this couple had never been on a long motorcycle ride or hunted wild game together. Those experiences do broaden a person’s point of view. Nature can call at the most awkward times. You just have to be flexible.

Americans seem to be more hung up about privacy issues than people in other parts of the word. Many East Coast families can trace their roots back to their Puritan forefathers. You would think that after crossing the Atlantic Ocean crowded in a small sailing ship with a hundred other passengers, our European ancestors and their descendants would have been more broad-minded about bathroom issues. I should have used those lines on that New England preppy at the sink.

Perhaps if I had been one of the new female undergraduate Yalies working at the reunion, I would have been more assertive. I could have grabbed the towel from around his waist and run out the door.

Now that would have made his dinner story really interesting.

P.S. I have just received word that Yale announced that it is installing 23 gender-neutral bathrooms on campus.

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