Our View is a staff editorial produced collaboratively by the entire Rocket Staff. Any views expressed in the editorial are the opinions of the entire staff.
To view a copy of the finance report quoted in this staff editorial, click here.
In the 2019 student life survey data, 73% of students, or 557 out of 764 surveyed students, supported an initiative to provide free menstrual products to students on campus using the student activity fee.
The Student Government Association is in the process of potentially making this idea a reality, sparking a new set of conversations regarding menstruation on college campuses.
The social justice committee requested $12,314.66 to implement a pilot program to provide menstrual products in 23 all-gender restrooms across campus. At the Nov. 11 formal meeting, the finance committee recommended to the senate to approve $3,368 for a pilot program in six restrooms. Because of the disagreement, the request was tabled and sent back to the finance committee.
Because of a discount the menstrual product company offered to the social justice committee following that meeting, the finance committee will next need to consider the social justice committee’s revised request of $3,386.60 for a pilot program in 20 all-gender restrooms.
In the finance report presented to the SGA senate on Nov. 11, the finance committee cited student life survey data that said that 81% (621 out of 764) students responded that they either didn’t menstruate, never faced a situation where they needed a pad or tampon in public or have only unexpectedly had their period once or twice.
To this, the finance committee challenged that “students who have only faced this once or twice could be more educated on where they can go to in times like that.”
This point addresses two important aspects of the menstrual stigma: access to products and access to education. For the first, students who unexpectedly have their period in public might rely on these emergency products in order to go back to class.
For students who are food or housing insecure, they might not be able to purchase pads or tampons at the local Giant Eagle or Rite Aid. When they run out of products in their own supply, free products in all-gender restrooms may make the difference between someone attending classes and extracurricular activities or being excluded.
Menstruation is not a clear-cut process. There are several factors, including stress or changes in medication, that can affect when someone gets their period. To assume that a student will always be prepared for an unexpected menstrual cycle during one of the busiest and most stressful points in their life is unrealistic.
These scenarios lead back to one common problem: without access to menstrual products, some students may not have an equal access to education.
If a student unexpectedly gets their period in the middle of class, they may have to leave class, risking lost attendance points, educational time and group project time. By having products close by, students can get back into class quicker with a minimal disruption to their education.
Currently, menstrual products are available for free at the Student Health Center (for emergency cases) and Bob’s Market. The Women’s Center has some products, but the supply is low and the center is not currently advertising that there are free products. For students who are in class, all three of these locations are not necessarily convenient.
There are also 25-cent menstrual products available in 17 buildings. Not all students carry quarters on them, especially in the age of debit cards and Venmo.
These 25-cent machines are also only in the women’s restrooms, excluding students who are transgender or non-binary and prefer to use all-gender restrooms. Although the social justice committee’s plans are to start this program and measure its impact, the added access of 20 restrooms that are accessible to all students regardless of gender identity is necessary to eliminating the barriers of menstruation for all students and including transgender and non-binary students in the conversations around menstruation.
Access to menstrual products is an issue not only concerned with students who menstruate, but this issue impacts the entire community.
As students and professionals in higher education, we should all be advocates of equal education for our classmates. When barriers such as housing and food insecurity and lack of accessible menstrual products exists, this community must work to eliminate those barriers.
This pilot program is an effective start and, with the exit surveys and measurements the finance committee recommended, we’ll start to work at breaking down this barrier.
SGA’s recent finance request started a conversation on campus about the importance on menstrual product access. In a culture where we are welcome to talk openly about other personal parts about ourselves, we must welcome menstruation openly in these conversations.
Especially in a time when a major social justice committee project has the ability to make accessible to menstrual products more wide spread, we encourage the SRU community to use this opportunity to provide more accessible menstrual products and reduce the menstrual stigma by openly talking about it.