Brandeis University is running a trial period for a free menstrual product initiative.
Although this initiative is not representative of what the project will look like if ever fully implemented, the trial is extremely trans-exclusive.
Right now, there are two places on campus where trans and nonbinary members of the Brandeis community can access menstrual products: the gender inclusive bathroom in the Goldfarb library and SSIS. However, this forces a trans man to go out of his way to access these products and may even reveal outing himself as trans. Placing products in bathrooms labeled Men (or even better, in individual stalls) would reduce this risk greatly. Everyone who experiences menstrual cycles knows that they are not always directly on schedule, and when faced with unpredicted arrivals of a cycle, these products need to be available.
Lex Ouellette, a member of the overall menstrual products initiative, pointed to some of the nuances of this issue.
“This is an eight week trial period and the amount of products we have are low. We had a slightly under $1000 budget and are considering requesting more money,” said Ouellette. “We have six total locations and are hoping to expand to a seventh. We looked for places that have high traffic (library, SCC, Usdan).”
While the lack of money provided obstacles for the number of locations and number of products used in the initiative, the initiative had plenty of time to try to plan around this obstacle. Ouellette mentioned that the initiative was started last semester. I am not arguing that students involved in the initiative should have used all their resources and time to raise money for expanding to men’s bathrooms. However, if they had mentioned that men’s restrooms would be excluded from the trial period to organizations such as TRISK or other LGBTQ+ groups on campus, they may have been able to increase collaboration and made the effort more inclusive, and possibly also synchronize budget and fundraising events.
Throughout my conversation with Ouellette, I positioned a series of questions about the purpose of the trial period. I asked, “If you are aiming to show places where the products will be used, why don’t you show them being used in men’s bathrooms?” Ouellette responded, “It’s not necessarily that we need to show each location where they will be used. We wanted the administration to provide funding for this, but they wouldn’t talk to us about it without a trial phase.” The goals of the trial are to demonstrate interest and see what products student use, said Ouellette; “The trial phrase may not indicate what is used moving forward.”
If the trial phase is not used to quantify product usage and collect financial data for later years, but only for interest, then why can’t they simply place products in bathrooms labeled men?
I asked, “What if, hypothetically, the administration would point to the fact that the initiative worked in women’s bathrooms and therefore only implement it there?” Ouellette responded, “I doubt that they will immediately take action based on this trial. It’s a process, and also what we demonstrate in the trial period will not necessary translate to what the university decides to implement.”
Ouellette then discussed the initiative’s course of action if the university refused to fund products in non-women’s bathrooms, stating that “we would explore possibilities to move to men’s bathrooms. For example, we have, for this trial, requested money from the Student Union, and we can request money from the Student Union again if the university refused to consider allocating funding to cover all gendered restrooms on campus.”
Ouellette also said she hopes that because there are already coin-operated product dispensers in gender neutral bathrooms that the administration would be “open to discussing and implementing free products in men’s restrooms.”
The trial is being used to show the administration that people use menstrual products and would benefit from a continuation of the program, and they did not base the decision to exclude products from men’s restrooms on the idea that they would not be used there. So why not expand to a restroom labeled men for the seventh location instead a bathroom labeled women? It is fair to say the products should be placed where they are needed the most, but I hope most people who use bathrooms labeled women would agree to a small sacrifice in the trial period (when free products have never been available in that location prior) if it would help our school protect trans people and their rights.
Although this is only a trial period, and the overall aim is for the products to be available in every restroom, trans and nonbinary people need to know that they do not have to suffer in the meantime just because they do not identify as women, but still menstruate.
Earlier this semester, the Theatre Department implemented a similar program in all of their bathrooms in Spingold. They made baskets with signs stating: “If you need a pad (tampon), take one! If you have a pad (tampon), give one!” All of the bins have been stocked since the beginning of the semester with a variety of products. This kind of communal system could easily work in bathrooms labeled men. Additionally, Spingold replaced the signs labeling the bathrooms men and women with signs stating what is in each room, e.g. three urinals, one stall, one sink. Obviously, the students working on the free menstrual product initiative have no say over the label of the facilities, but this rebranding would allow freedom of identity expression and equal access to the products.
To make free menstrual products more trans accessible, Brandeis students will need to make a group effort to raise money and increase awareness. If you want to help remedy this issue, you can contact me or the Student Union. The Brandeis community can work together to make sure trans and nonbinary students have access to the menstrual products they need.