Improving the Quality of Life at ICU

【The article below is the same as the article that appears in the twelfth issue of the CGS Newsletter. The full Japanese version of this discussion can be viewed on here.】

In June, 2009, former Sumposion (LGBIT* student club) members held a roundtable talk on how we could improve the quality of life at ICU.

■Classroom Experiences at ICU
A: There have been times I've been treated in ways that made me wonder, "is this really O.K.?" Like, teachers making jokes about homosexuality or talking as though all relationships are heterosexual. I think it's terrible, but as a student it's hard to bring it up in class because I feel I'm not in a position to say anything.
C: I once took a Christianity course in which one of the topics was feminist theology. So I did a presentation on feminist perspectives, but the whole class just laughed. One student asked me why we should listen to feminists when they were all "biased". So I asked them, "Aren't YOU biased?" but they just laughed even more.
Naomi Suzuki (CGS staff; NS): How do teachers respond in such situations?
C: They don't really do anything, or they just stare. But then, when I wrote about it on Mixi, one of my classmates wrote that she thought the students' reactions were inappropriate. But I think people just don't feel they can speak up about stuff like that in class.
B: I think we should have a support system for lecturers. Maybe CGS could host workshops on things like "how to incorporate queer/feminist perspectives in your lectures"!

■"Biased" Means "Excluded"
B: One of my teachers asked us to write down any nicknames we wanted to use for our comment sheets in class. So I wrote, "a homosexual asian male bitch". The teacher got mad, so I changed it to "a homosexual asian male girl", because he said the problem was the "bitch" part. But he never shared my comments in class. I wonder what nickname I should have used. "A heterosexual male boy"?
D: Why bother with "asian"? How about just "Japanese?"
B:, a homosexual Japanese male boy...? (All: laughs)
B: It makes me so mad when people want me to use words that don't really mean anything.
NS: So you have to be "nothing". You can't be something different, or "biased". That's just like the "feminism can't be biased" mentality.
B: Well, "a heterosexual Japanese male boy" is just as "biased" as "a homosexual asian male bitch". They're two different things.

■School Life
A: You know, it's not easy to find people like you guys, people who you can talk to about stuff like this. We make friends through clubs, classes or part-time jobs, but you can't really talk to them about gender and sexuality. I'm sure there's a lot of students like us who feel like they couldn't survive without places like CGS or Sumposion where they can meet people and openly talk about sexuality. (All: Totally.)
A: But then, CGS or Sumposion is an "additional" social group that we have to worry about, while we still have classes, work and clubs just like everyone else. I think that's an issue that we should be aware of.
C: I think that's part of the reason some people feel too scared or hesitant to get involved in these groups.
B: And not many people know about us, anyway. Sumposion, CGS.
A: And I know some people who want to come but are worried that they'd be labeled as "those people", you know, those deviants.
NS: Oh, that'd be horrible if someone heterosexual said that.
A: I think both queers and heterosexuals say it.
B: Yeah, that sounds like something that queers in the closet would say, pretty understandable.
NS: I see.... I guess ghettoization is another problem that CGS needs to work on.

■Shower Rooms and Bathrooms
C: You know, we have PE in the freshman year, and when you change clothes..., /All: Oh, no! That's right!
C: I was shocked when I first saw that locker room. It's a completely open space and everyone seemed uncomfortable. But we were made to feel like it was wrong to be embarrassed and then you somehow end up thinking "I'm not uncomfortable! It's nothing."
NS: Yes, I told myself that college students shouldn't care about nudity, and put up with it throughout my first year.
C: You can probably survive one year of forced naked communication with classmates. But if you live in one of the dorms, it's years of nudity, the "You shouldn't be shy" feeling every single day. I don't think it's only about shyness, but also a feeling of a lack of control. It probably has nothing to do with sexual orientation. (All: Mhmm.)
C: It's like the school saying, "you guys are the same sex, so there's nothing to hide!" It's so strong and..., yeah, just annoying.
B: I'm gay, but if ICU told me that I could use the women's locker room instead, I would say, "no way!" because I just can't stand the lack of privacy! Doesn't matter if you're homosexual or heterosexual.
NS: So if ICU says they make a locker room for all male homosexuals...,
B: That's just so stupid! I want this university to be safe for everyone!

■Private vs. Public
C: The shower room that we use in P.E. classes doesn't have curtains, either. So I always took a shower in my swimsuit.
D: I never thought of taking showers completely naked. It wasn't just the fact that we had to change in front of others, but also that the showers are only two doors away from the outside...
C: I was uncomfortable seeing my classmates walking around naked, too. And people can just walk in. There's a lot of people in the hallway.
F: I've seen people going into the bathroom to change.
B: We think of the shower room as a public space but we are forced to act like it were a private space. The assumption is that it's private because we are the same sex, so therefore nudity is okay too.
D: And the bathroom is the only recourse for some of us. I can't help feeling shocked when I see other people naked like that.
NS: Yeah. Why do we have to share our privacy in a public space, looking like we can go sit on the toilet any second, you know?
B: I think we should go remove all the doors to the bathrooms, starting with the administrative building, where the "same-sex = private = nudity is okay" equation comes from. (All: laughs)

■Whose Needs are Respected?
NS: Why don't we have curtains and individual spaces ? Cost? Security issues? What is it that they are trying to protect by making up such an equation?
B: Money and security are both very popular excuses. But we do have doors in restrooms, right? Restrooms are also dangerous spaces where anything can happen. They have locks. It'd cost much less if we only had toilets on the floor next to each other completely exposed. But no one says we should get rid of bathroom doors. So how schools use money totally depends on the ideological, biased views of "how schools normally use money."
A: Yeah. Like, they built the wheelchair ramp in the administrative building as an afterthought.
NS: Yeah, using extra money. What's the difference between ramps and shower room doors? They think that "need" is a more justifiable reason than "embarrassment"?
B: Well, we do feel "embarrassed and uncomfortable", and that's why we definitely "need" doors lol.
A: (laughs) But it's harder to tell people that you're feeling uncomfortable about something.
NS: Yes, that's one reason. And many people would think we're selfish.
B: This might sound a little far-fetched, but able-bodied people couldn't go upstairs if we don't have stairs, right? We do use money to build stairs. It's not about people with needs and people with no needs. It's about people whose needs are ignored and people whose needs are already met. As for gender issues, there are people whose needs are met, who are happy with gender segregated spaces. And there are people like us whose needs are ignored, or considered to be extra work. But all we ask for is equality, equal work, equal respect, equal efforts and equal access to equal services.

■Raising Awareness: You can say "no"
A: I think that we should continue making logical arguments. But at the same time, it is also important to raise awareness. Speaking up about these things can be very difficult for all of us, myself included. It took me a long time to realize that I could say "no" to things that I didn't like. People often tell me that they'd never even thought that they could say that something felt strange or bad to them.
C: Professor Kazuko Tanaka's class was an eye opener for me. I was shocked to see how the subject of my personal frustrations and confusion was actually an academic discipline!
NS: Is there any shortcut to that kind of awareness?
B: I think it's important to learn from others. Like, I used to read every single article that Makoto Hibino put up online, and that made me realize that it was O.K. to complain.
C: Yeah. You have to watch and learn to realize it's O.K. to .

■How To Ask the School and Students For What We Want
NS: I heard that you guys sent the school administration a letter about possible improvements to the new dormitory plans. How did it go?
B: We asked for (1) better education for students on things like date rape, same-sex sexual violence, and LGBT** issues; (2) more privacy in bathrooms and shower rooms; and (3) co-ed accommodation cvn dormitories. The second issue seems to appeal to many students.
C: ICU students are quite sensitive to human rights issues, so I'm sure the first one will get a lot of support, too. But having on-campus co-ed dorms can be very difficult for many people to accept. I've seen people react to the suggestion, saying, "Living with the opposite sex? No way!" And they don't seem to understand when you try to explain about the needs of LGBT students.
B: Some people say, "LGBT people don't have to live in the dorms."
A: The idea of a co-ed dormitory is also a crucial issue in our discussions with the university administration. I think we should start by persuading the majority; otherwise, we keep getting "we understand your concerns but" comments.... But even if the dormitory thing doesn't work out, we'd be happy to have better privacy in bathrooms and shower rooms. It's not that we think of these three issues as separate, but...,
B: Right..., it's not like if we successfully convince them to have co-ed dormitories, everything will be alright. It will require a lot of management and support. And even after we graduate we want to keep supporting LGBT students.
NS: We'd also like to stay in touch with you. Thank you for your time.

*LGBIT…Lesbian, gay, intersex, and transgender/transsexual
**LGBT…Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender/transsexual