After April break, the Student Union will begin a month-long trial of distributing free menstrual products in select men’s and women’s bathrooms across campus, and also at SSIS. Come fall semester, the Union will present the results of the trial to the administration and ask them to take over the program, putting it under the purview of Facilities. We at The Brandeis Hoot applaud the senate for pursuing this project but urge that it not be passed off to the administration in the fall.
Supplying menstrual products at no cost to students is a necessary change. Many other colleges have already seen much success in doing so, even when managed by the student government. Brown University’s Undergraduate Council of Students finances and operates such a program, as reported in an Oct. 21, 2016 article in The Hoot. This work is not unprecedented and has an excellent track record.
At Brandeis, the administration has no vested interest in providing free menstrual products. Since this campus conversation has developed over the last semester, members of the administration have clearly demonstrated that they are skeptical of this initiative at best, and are mistrustful of it at worst. Conversely, students do have a vested interest in these products’ free distribution. It is short-sighted to think that students will lose interest in this initiative and not follow through.
One potential reason to pass the initiative onto the university is because in the control of the Student Union, students would also be responsible for stocking the menstrual products in bathrooms across campus. However, this does not seem like an infeasible option. Enough volunteers have approached the Campus Operations Working Group to help restock during this trial run, and it is likely that students will still volunteer in the future, even if they are predominantly from the Student Union or SSIS. If not enough students come forward, distribution could be integrated into the duties of certain Student Union positions. Another option is to make this a paying, on-campus job. A fraction of the Student Union’s budget could be used as a salary for a few distributors to restock bathrooms each week.
As of Friday morning, the Student Union will have announced the Community Enhancement and Emergency Fund (C.E.E.F.) winners. These eight student-led projects to improve campus in a variety of ways have been awarded a total of $90,000. This leaves C.E.E.F with about $150,000 in emergency funds. A month’s supply of tampons and pads costs less than $1,000, according to senators coordinating the initiative, so at most, supplying menstrual products in these six bathrooms will cost $12,000 for the year. Evidently, the program’s cost would increase if more bathrooms were included, but if the university believes it would have the money in the Facilities budget, then that money can be rerouted to the Student Union, earmarked for this initiative indefinitely.
Since the free menstrual product initiative was student-based at its inception, the Student Union should honor this spirit, especially because of its feasibility. The Union is experienced in coordinating large projects, like the Thanksgiving Turkey Shuttles, so taking on this initiative beyond the spring semester is fully within the Union’s capabilities, and more within the Union’s interests than those of the administration.