Why is there a lack of privacy in the Cornell fitness center locker rooms and bathrooms?

Date: May 2019


Dear Deans,

I would like to inquire about the reason for the lack of privacy in the Cornell fitness center locker rooms and bathrooms.

The locker rooms and bathrooms are completely public and there is nowhere else to change our clothes and to take a shower without being exposed to others and without exposing ourselves to others. This leads to several violations of freedom and rights:

  1. One’s religious belief might not permit for someone to expose himself to others and be exposed to others. Hence, for such a person it is not possible to use the locker rooms and the bathrooms and, therefore, not possible to use the facilities. Clearly, the rights of that person would be restricted due to religious beliefs and the university’s lack of proper arrangement of the facility.
  2. As the university community does not consist of only sexually “straight” people, using the facility might not be possible for people of different sexual orientations. Again, this would be a restriction of one’s rights, as the facilities are designed specifically for heterosexual people.
  3. As the age variation among the facility users is extremely high, the chance of any sexual offense/exposure is extremely high. In fact, it might be already present. Personally, I have witnessed many senior people exposing themselves even if there is a simple way not to do that (e.g. while holding a huge towel in their hands instead of covering themselves and literally walking around the whole locker room). I do not want to accuse anybody, but don’t you think this is a little strange?

In summary, I simply do not understand the reason for the lack of privacy in the fitness centers.

There are many simple (and inexpensive) solutions, such as putting curtains in between showers and, yet, no action has been taken to resolve the above-mentioned issues.

Thank you in advance for your answer,

A fitness enthusiast grad student


Dear Fitness Enthusiast Grad Student,

Thanks very much for your thoughtful question to Ask a Dean. I expect that some other graduate students share your concerns and questions. 

To address your question, I consulted with Cornell’s director of recreational services. She indicated that there are facilities on campus that allow for privacy.  These include the women’s locker room in Helen Newman, at which three out of 19 showers are private stalls, and the men’s locker room has three private stalls.  The Noyes locker rooms (men’s and women’s) each have one shower with a curtain. The Teagle locker rooms, however, have no private stalls; she indicated Teagle is the only facility without private stalls as an option.

The history of these various recreational facilities is that the locker rooms were built many years ago. Depending on the building, the facilities were designed as “away team” locker rooms. For example, Helen Newman was designed originally as a women’s away team facility, so there are more showers for women than for men in Helen Newman. Teagle was designed originally as a men’s away team facility, and has over 30 showerheads for men and eight for women. As for putting up curtains in existing communal shower stalls, that is apparently not allowed due to fire codes or other restrictions.

I hope this provides some additional options for you to consider to access a greater level of privacy than you have been experiencing. It’s great that you are using the fitness centers – staying active fosters physical and mental health and well-being. Perhaps choosing a facility with a private shower option will help increase the positive aspects of your fitness activities.

Warm regards,


Barbara A. Knuth
Dean of the Graduate School