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Toilet stops in the field: An educational primer and recommended best practices for field-based teaching

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Abstract

Many institutions do not have guidelines surrounding toilet stops on field trips, and the topic is rarely discussed. This document is intended to educate staff and students about toilet stops and menstruation in the field. This document also contains a set of recommendations for field work and field trips with the aim of minimising stress and anxiety for all parties.
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Toilet stops in the field: An educational primer and
recommended best practices for field-based teaching
Sarah Greene, Kate Ashley, Emma Dunne, Kirsty Edgar, Sam Giles, Emma Hanson, University of
Birmingham Earth Sciences Department.
Questions? Suggestions for additions or improvements? Please email s.e.greene@bham.ac.uk
Purpose
Many institutions do not have guidelines surrounding toilet stops on field trips, and the topic is rarely
discussed. This document is intended to educate staff and students about toilet stops and
menstruation in the field. This document also contains a set of recommendations for field work and
field trips with the aim of minimising stress and anxiety for all parties.
Educational Primer
Many students will never have urinated outdoors before, and may not know this
is expected on some fieldtrips. For people who squat to urinate
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, there is a ‘technique’ to
master and no one wants to learn in front of their peers and lecturers.
Inadequate (or inadequate communication about) toilet stops causes stress and
discomfort. Do not underestimate how much staff and students worry about toilet facilities
on field trips, or how much energy staff/demonstrators may be already spending trying to
anticipate and prevent problems.
It is not uncommon for people to manage their fluid intake to avoid needing to
urinate outdoors. This choice is not unique to students some highly experienced staff do
so as well. It is particularly common for people who need to squat to pee, on trips with
minimal toilet facilities, on trips with large groups, or in landscapes that provide little cover.
Restricting fluid intake is dangerous, and can lead to dehydration and urinary tract
infections. Managing fluid intake is not a sign of ignorance, but reflects how much anxiety
and stress is associated with field urination for some people.
Toilet stops are not just for urinating. Menstruating individuals need to change
pads/tampons at least every 4-8 hours, depending on their flow. Leaving a tampon in longer,
using super absorbent tampons to compensate for infrequent toilet stops, or changing
tampons with dirty hands all increase the risk of toxic shock syndrome. Some people may
want privacy to take medicine or injections. Some medical conditions, stress, or having your
period can also affect the urgency and frequency with which one needs to defecate.
“This problem seems to be getting worse every year.”
No it isn’t. Awareness of the problem is getting better as there are more field scientists
who are feeling more able to voice their experiences and concerns publicly.
Recommendations
General departmental policies:
Plan your itinerary. Include regular toilet stops on your field trip. If you think this is
impossible on your trip, re-read the educational primer and consider carefully whether your
preferred itinerary is worth the resulting anxiety and distress. Keep in mind that students who
are preoccupied worrying about toilet stops will not be active, engaged learners.
Field guides and field trip briefings should address urination and menstruation
kit in the same level of detail that you cover field gear like boots, compasses,
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Note that people who squat to urinate includes most women, but also may include trans men, non-
gender binary, or intersex individuals. Likewise, ‘women’ and ‘people who menstruate’ are not
synonymous.
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warm clothing. Young people may still be experimenting with options for managing their
periods. Field guides can mention period products such as Diva Cups, Wuka/Thinx, as many
students will not be aware of them. Shewees are an option for field urination while standing,
although anecdotally, very few field scientists recommend them. There is a technique to
master and, understandably, few will wish to engage with trial and error on group field trips.
These products should not be used as an alternative to regular toilet stops.
Field guides and field trip briefings should state general policies about toilet
stops. General policies should include encouraging people to ask if they need an
unscheduled toilet stop and a protocol for peeing in remote localities. For remote localities,
our informal suggestion in house is to take a buddy or two to keep watch and find
somewhere discreet to pee. Students should inform a member of staff when they peel off and
when they return. This is preferable to group ten-minute-pee-breaks, which may leave people
squatting in front of dozens of other people, which may be distressing. Students should also
avoid splitting groups by perceived gender when announcing toilet stops (e.g. ‘women to the
left, men to the right’), as this can cause discomfort to trans and non-binary students.
Field guides and field trip briefings should highlight strategies for hydration.
Strategies to ‘complement your hydration regime besides drinking water might include
rehydration sachets, eating fruit, avoiding salty foods, but students should consult with
medical professionals for more specific advice.
To do ahead of time for each field trip:
Itinerary. Include a detailed itinerary in your field guide. List which stops have toilets (and
approximate arrival time at each stop). At any stops where toilet availability is ‘iffy’ (e.g.
seasonally closed or need to call ahead to ensure permission) this should not be left to
chance. Call ahead and make sure the field guide is accurate. List coinage for coin-operated
toilet facilities. Schedule ample time at toilet stops such that those that 'could pee, but don't
need to' or wish to change a tampon or pad don't feel pressured to abandon the queue or
skip the pad/tampon change. Flag supermarket stops so students know when they will have a
chance to purchase (e.g.) sanitary supplies. A sample field stop itinerary from our Year 1 trip
to Co. Antrim, NI, is at the bottom of this document.
Coach hire. Hire coaches with toilets whenever possible even if you have planned toilet
stops. Coach drivers sometimes discourage use of these toilets because they need to be
emptied. You may wish to stipulate with the coach company that the drivers are dispatched
with information on nearest sites for waste disposal.
Field trip briefing. Explicitly discuss the toilet situation at each day/locality and lay out
contingencies (e.g. whether you will be in easy driving distance of an emergency toilet or
protocol for peeing in the field).
To bring. As with medical or first aid kits, staff should carry a supply of pads and tampons
(particularly important in places where students can’t simply make their own way to a drug
store or supermarket), toilet paper, rehydration sachets, hand sanitizer or wipes, and plastic
baggies to dispose of tampons/pads/toilet paper if there are no rubbish bins. On trips with
coin-operated toilets staff should bring proper coinage.
To do on each field trip:
Attitude/environment. Students must never be made to feel remotely ashamed or guilty if
they ask for an extra toilet stop or if they get dehydrated. Based on the experiences of
ourselves and our colleagues across multiple institutions and in multiple countries, this is
often not the case and likely
the
single most important and effectual change you can make.
Each stop/each day. Field trip leader announces toilet situation and, where applicable,
reminds students of the protocols for peeing in remote localities. Field trip leaders remind the
students to continue to hydrate through the evening.
To do post-field trip:
Solicit feedback. Often undergraduate students will be more comfortable approaching
demonstrators/PhD students, so academic staff may be unaware of issues that arose. Ask
them what they picked up on.
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Sample front page for one stop on our Yr 1 field trip:
Day 1 - Location 2: Portrush Sill
Location
Ramore Head, Portrush, Grid ref: C 85538 41276
Habitas link
http://www.habitas.org.uk/escr/site.asp?Item=60
Main rock
types/features
Dolerite, mudstone, hornfels, chilled margin,
igneous layering, ammonites
Objective
Understand contact relationships between igneous
and sedimentary rocks and consider the structure of
igneous bodies
Activities
Examining igneous rocks focusing on mineralogy,
grain size and texture. Also examining sedimentary
rocks and considering the effect of magma
emplacement.
Assessment
Observations and interpretations will feed into a
model that will include other localities on this trip,
so an evening sum up session will consolidate the
observations of today
Logistics
14 miles (29min) from accommodation. 20 miles (40
min) from previous stop.
Toilet facilities at locality: YES
Time on section: approx. 2 hrs
Walking: minimal, some across rocky foreshore
Return 5.30 pm
Safety notes
Rock surfaces will be slippery when wet. Coach
stops in a car park.
Relevant
modules
Earth Systems, Structural Geology, Petrology,
Volcanology and Geochemistry, Igneous and
Metamorphic Petrology
Economic/
applied
Magmatic systems carry metalliferous ore deposits.
Sills in sedimentary basins affect the hydrocarbon
system. Igneous bodies control geothermal systems
while the magmatic system is active and form major
structures in hydrological models.
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.
... • Consider proximity to health support, e.g. health care centres or hospitals, and toilet facilities (Greene et al., 2020). ...
... • Allow ample time for walking, learning activities, supermarket trips, meal times, etc. Include ample toilet stops throughout each day (Greene et al., 2020) and ensure that all this information is highlighted in advance (section 4.3.4) and in the field guide (section 4.2.13). ...
... ○ Are the coaches accessible for participants with physical disabilities? Do the coaches have toilets on board (Greene et al., 2020)? Avoid booking coaches with 3 seats abreast as these seats tend to be narrower. ...
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