Mike Adams
When I graduated from college, one of my old high school friends said that a B.S. degree stood for "B.S." When I got my M.S. degree, he said it stood for "More S...". When I got my PhD, he said that stood for "Piled Higher and Deeper." At the time, I just thought he was just jealous. But recent events in higher education have caused me to rethink my position.

For example, I learned this week that Olga Gershenson, a professor of Judaic and Near Eastern studies at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, and Barbara Penner, a professor of architecture at University College London, have issued a "call for papers" about public restrooms. The invitation reads as follows:

We invite contributions for the edited collection Toilet Papers: The Gendered Construction of Public Toilets.

Public toilets are amenities with a functional, even a civic, purpose. Yet they also act as the unconscious of public spaces. They can be a haven: a place to regain composure, to 'check one's face,' or to have a private chat. But they are also sexually-charged and transgressive spaces that shelter illicit sexual practices and act as a cultural repository for taboos and fantasies.

...(P)ublic toilets, far from being banal or simply functional, are highly charged spaces, shaped by notions of propriety, hygiene and the binary gender division. Indeed, public toilets are among the very few openly segregated spaces in contemporary Western culture, and the physical differences between 'gentlemen' and 'ladies' remains central to (and is further naturalized by) their design.

...(T)hey provide a fertile ground for critical work interrogating how conventional assumptions about the body, sexuality, privacy, and technology can be formed in public space and inscribed through design.

...Any subject is appropriate: toilet design and signage, toilet humour and euphemisms, personal narratives and legal cases, as well as art sited in public toilets. We invite submissions in the format of traditional academic papers of no more than 7000 words (including footnotes).

Naturally, I thought this "call for papers" was a joke at first. Then, I went to Olga Gershenson's website at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. Her last three paper presentations were simply too strange to be fabricated. The paper titles were "Private parts/public stages: The rhetoric of gender, sexuality, and space," "Potty Politics on Campus: Debates over Unisex Bathrooms," and "Public Bathrooms? The Rhetoric of Space, Gender, and Power."


Mike Adams

Mike Adams is a criminology professor at the University of North Carolina Wilmington and author of Letters to a Young Progressive: How To Avoid Wasting Your Life Protesting Things You Don't Understand.