On two separate occasions — September 15 and 19 — two female residents at the university’s Whitney Hall residence building were the victims of voyeurism, having been filmed while they were showering. As a result, Whitney Hall and its four University College (UC) housing affiliates have revoked their gender neutral policy on many of the residence’s washrooms.
It fell to Melinda Scott, dean of students at UC, to break the news. “Given the serious nature of these incidents and the impact on directly affected students, we made the decision to specifically designate some washrooms throughout the building for those who identify as men and those who identify as women. At the same time, there remains at least one gender-neutral washroom per floor and per house,” Scott said in a statement to The Varsity.
Many students are in shock. “It’s scary to think that there’s someone nearby that’s doing that kind of thing,” said Tessa Mahrt-Smith, a first-year Whitney resident. Melissa Birch, also a first-year resident of Whitney and shares Mahrt-Smith’s sentiments. “I think it sucks that there are going to be people that don’t feel safe in Whitney now, and that we can’t have an inclusive environment.”
Whitney Hall has never had a reported controversy regarding its gender-neutral washrooms. The Metro Toronto Police have yet to find any information as to the physical appearance of the voyeur, though the investigation is ongoing.
“Both victims (women) claimed seeing a cellphone reach over while they were in the shower,” said Constable Victor Kwong.
Scott admits that the turn away from gender-neutral washrooms does not directly approach the problem of the voyeurism in Whitney Hall. “The purpose of this temporary measure is to provide a safe space for the women who have been directly impacted by these events and other students who may feel more comfortable in a single gender washroom in the wake of these incidents. We do not expect the designation of these washrooms alone to resolve this matter; it is a complex situation that requires a multi-layered approach,” she said.
Some residents, however, have considered that separating men and women will have an adverse affect, providing an environment in which voyeurism can take place more easily. “It’s not very hard to be of [another] gender and sneak into the single-gender washrooms if they know it’s in the wee hours of the morning, or if they know that there’s only one person in there, who actually might happen to be in the shower. So I do feel that while [gendered washrooms] may help, there’s also the potential that [this system] could provide easier targets for the voyeur,” said Mahrt-Smith.
Moreover, the effects of the segregated washrooms have caused one male resident to reshape his daily routine. Evan Rees is the only male student on the first floor of Ferguson House in Whitney; the once gender-neutral washroom is now women only. Rees entered his residence contract with the understanding that there would be a washroom on his floor. Without one, he must travel up to the second floor whenever he needs to use the facilities.
“While [UC Residences understand] that the designation to some washrooms as male, female or gender-neutral is a change, we do not feel that it is an undue inconvenience. There will be no change in the residence fees as a result of this change,” said Scott.
The atmosphere at Whitney has changed, something that is evident from speaking with its residents. Reynolds Garret, another freshman resident, told The Varsity that “this issue is not strictly about someone taking pictures; it is about a violation of the trust that our residence experience is based on.” Birch echoes these sentiments: “I’m disappointed that it happened. I have more faith in people than that.”
Amanda Stojcevski, president of the UC Literary and Athletic Society, wants all UC students to be aware of the options available to them. “Despite the incidents that have occurred, there are many sources of support at University College for students should they feel uncomfortable or unsafe. The UC Lit is just one of these sources, and we would like students to know they are welcome to come talk to us about any issues at the college, and we can either act as a support ourselves, or connect them with the appropriate resource.”
Campus Police have urged anyone with any information on the voyeurism incidents at Whitney Hall to contact them.