It is commonly understood that bullies are simply weak people who play on the insecurities of others for a perverse sense of self-fulfilment. Although bullying is not limited to children of school age, same-sex school toilets have gained a harsh representation as being a breeding ground for antisocial, manipulative behaviour. But what is the solution to prevent bullying in these environments?
Bullying is more likely to occur in places that are not under the watchful eyes of teachers. Conventional, same-sex toilets are usually designed to be open-plan, with most toilet cubicles only separated by flimsy, plywood partitions. These inefficient designs not only create a cacophony of harsh acoustics, they make it easier for bullies to target students in one of the most vulnerable situations.
Although it is very difficult to say same-sex bullying is more common than cross-gender bullying, on average, the former tends to outweigh the latter in most secondary schools, particularly in all-boy’s or girl’s institutions.
On the other hand, unisex or gender-neutral bathrooms create spaces for schoolchildren to use toilet facilities without any hassle. Gender-neutral bathrooms can provide safe areas for students who don’t feel as if they ‘conform’ to one gender. For instance, if a boy or girl is bullied for their sexual orientation, unisex toilets provide a more stable, supportive space for schoolchildren to use toilet facilities comfortably, without feeling judged for their sexuality. A ‘boy’ or ‘girl’ sign might seem like a clear indication for toilet users in schools, but in reality, these traditional signs are misleading and have a tendency to conceal the antisocial behaviour occurring in those spaces. They are part of the problem, not the solution.
Therefore, design considerations play a vital role in combatting school bullying. Really, we should adhere to this philosophy: if you create unsafe, inefficient spaces, then you’ll provide the perfect platform for bullies to thrive. Potential solutions to combat school bullying in toilets are as follows: cubicles with floor-to-ceiling partitions offer private rooms for students who do not want to be targeted at a vulnerable time. Modern, trough-like sinks featuring automated taps prevent water from overflowing, maintaining a clean environment.
Clean, well-kept toilet facilities look like they’ve been cared for. Bullies only seek areas which are run-down and unattended to, primarily because they want their behaviour to go unnoticed.
Furthermore, the constant flow of both boys and girls into a room removes the presence of same-sex groups loitering in the corners. Unisex toilets will also mean both male and female teachers can access the bathrooms, meaning teachers will be able to keep a close watch on any untoward behaviour.
Making the switch to unisex toilets will actively combat the presence of bullying in schools. Safe bathroom facilities with innovative, modern designs make a significant statement to bullies. Don’t let a weak, poorly-designed and inadequately-fitted cubicle let a bully take advantage of a fellow student. Stronger bathroom designs are a fundamental part of eliminating school bullies from getting what they want. Provide a safe space, not a space for bullies.