Brandeis Pro-Choice received $5,000 from Planned Parenthood to install a Plan B vending machine in the Shapiro Campus Center (SCC). The vending machine will ideally have a year’s worth of free Plan B available at all times for the student body, according to Susannah Miller ’19, Brandeis Pro-Choice president.
Brandeis Pro-Choice, a student run organization, is partnered with Planned Parenthood Generation Action which informed them of the grant. Planned Parenthood Generation Action is a college campus-based Planned Parenthood program that involves campus organizations, such as Brandeis Pro-Choice, with national campaigns. They work with over 300 campus groups across the country.
Brandeis Pro-Choice plans to use the grant to install a wellness vending machine with condoms, menstrual products, ibuprofen and Plan B available 24/7. The desire for this machine comes from the unavailability of easily accessible Plan B on weekends for the student body, said Miller. They hope to place the vending machine next to the existing snack machines on the first floor of the SCC.
Plan B, also known as the morning after pill, is an emergency contraceptive effective when taken within three days of unprotected sex. Plan B is currently available at the Health Center from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. on weekdays for free. The cost of the visit is either billed to the student’s insurance, or if their plan will not cover it, Brandeis assumes the cost. A student can be administered Plan B without notifying an insurance provider if there are confidentiality concerns.
One of Miller’s main concerns is that the Health Center is closed on the weekends which could compel students to purchase the pill off campus. As an over-the-counter drug, Plan B can cost between $40 and $60.
“With the vending machine we want to make sure that students have the reproductive health resources they deserve. Access to Plan B should not be a barrier for students based on money, based on having a car [or] based on time of day,” Miller said. “In the future we just want to continue serving as a resource on campus for people to find out about ways to get involved in reproductive justice as well as just how to keep themselves safe and healthy.”
Brandeis Pro-Choice applied for the grant along with other Generation Action chapters. After the initial introduction process, Miller wrote a five-page grant proposal to justify the funding. She noted that, though some opposition was expected, none appeared. Her only concern in installing the machine was possible abuse resulting from students taking too much of the free Plan B. Administrators raised a similar concern about overuse of free products with regard to the free menstrual product initiative at Brandeis. Student organizers and the Student Union are running a free trial this month, placing products in a handful of women’s and gender neutral bathrooms and at SSIS.
“Luckily we haven’t really faced any opposition from the staff members that we [have] spoken with so far. We were kind of preparing for an uphill battle and really everyone we’ve spoken to has been on board so far, which is a miracle of Brandeis.”
The specific logistics of installing the vending machine, such as pricing and placement, are still undecided. Miller was confident, however, that the project would provide major benefits to the student body.
“I think it helps draw awareness to it as well because we’re kind of able to do this big exciting announcement…A lot of people aren’t aware of the current access to Plan B on campus and when they hear that it’s not available on weekends they think that’s crazy…So I think that the grant is going to help us tell more people about this so that we can get more people on board.”
Brandeis Pro-choice, formerly known as Brandeis for NARAL (National Abortion and Reproductive Rights Action League) until 2016, has been an organization at Brandeis since 2015. Miller has been president of the organization since spring of 2016, having joined as a freshman and stayed for the past three years.
When asked about her role in the organization, Miller was enthusiastic. “It’s honestly the most fulfilling thing I’ve ever done,” Miller said. “It’s challenging—it pushes me a lot—I’m not a natural born leader but I kind of stepped up and took this role and I absolutely love it and it makes me feel like I’m making a difference in the world.”
Brandeis Pro-choice has worked on other large projects, such as traveling to the state house to lobby for the Access bill, which allows Massachusetts residents to get free birth control. The student organization meets Wednesdays from 7 to 8 p.m. in Schwartz 110.