Free menstrual products are available in six women’s and gender neutral bathrooms around campus, as part of an initiative that students began in the fall of 2016. The trial period will last from Oct. 13 to Dec. 9 and aims to demonstrate the need for free menstrual products on campus.
During the trial period, free menstrual products, including pads and tampons, will be available in the women’s restrooms in the first floors of the SCC, Mandel, Farber and the mailroom bathroom in Usdan. They will also be in the Goldfarb gender-neutral restroom and the SSIS office.
The Campus Operations Working Group (COW-G) and the Health and Safety Committee of the Student Union, as well as Brandeis Students for Reproductive Justice (BSRJ) are leading the initiative.
“The overall goal of this trial phase is that we can demonstrate to the university that there is a need for freely accessible menstrual products and that the university should invest in providing for those menstrual products,” stated Lexi Ouellette ’18, a student with BSRJ.
The money for the trial-period products is coming from a Senate Monetary Resolution (SMR) that students drafted and submitted. Volunteers check the bathrooms daily and re-stock when supply runs low, according to Samantha Barrett ’20, chair of the Health and Safety Committee.
People have shown their appreciation for the free menstrual products by leaving handwritten thank you notes in the containers holding the products. “I know that people are utilizing the resources available!” said Barrett.
To measure its success, leaders of the movement are looking for a steady use of the products. Funding and scope of the trial phase are limited, so success will not be measured necessarily by the amount of products used, but rather that they are being used at a consistent rate. “We argue that consistent use constitutes an exhibited need for menstrual products,” said Ouellette.
“Our overall goal of success is to provide free menstrual products to students, and right now, we are doing this,” noted Ouellette. “Today, if someone was able to access menstrual products and that access alleviated some stress or anxiety, we were successful. It is important to reflect on our day to day successes as we work with the administration to implement this access long-term.”
The administration has currently ceased conversation surrounding free menstrual products until after the trial phase is complete, so it is unclear as to what the initiative will look like after the trial period.
If the administration decides to not go forward with funding the menstrual products, leaders hope to request funding from the Student Union to continue providing products, while addressing any limitations the university has.
Several students have expressed concerns that the menstrual products are only available in women’s restrooms. Free menstrual products are currently available in two gender-neutral locations, including the Goldfarb library gender-neutral bathroom and in the SSIS office. There are currently no free menstrual products in men’s restrooms.
The inclusion of products in men’s restrooms is a larger goal for implementation after the trial phase, said Ouellette. The trial phase has limited funding and resources, so products have been limited to certain prominent locations on campus.
“I’ve had productive conversations with students regarding the current lack of menstrual products in men’s restrooms, which is the feedback I’ve taken the most to heart, because criticism of our trial is important to moving forward with a better, more inclusive plans given the ability to expand,” stated Ouellette.
Organizers of this project hope to expand the scope of the initiative after the trial phase, as the trial phase “is not meant to replicate what we want going forward,” said Ouellette. “Its current manifestation does not include products for all gendered restrooms, which is not as trans- inclusive as it should be.”
Conversations with the administration about full implementation of the initiative would include which gender restrooms would include the menstrual products. “Until the end of this trial, there’s very little that we can say about what steps moving forward will be, as the administration did not want to re-engage with this issue until we had completed a trial period,” claimed Ouellette.
Students have been talking about free menstrual products on campus since last fall. Student organizes like Ouellette and Union members met with Jim Gray, senior vice president of campus operations. Gray initially said he was not sure how much demand there was for this program, and he also expressed concern that students might abuse the supply. He first asked students to release a survey. After seeing the survey results, Gray said the only real way to gauge interest in a program would be to hold a trial.