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Student Union and Period Activists at ‘Deis pilot new free period products program

In early December of 2022, Period Activists at ‘Deis (PAD) announced on their Instagram page that free period products would be distributed in women’s and gender neutral restrooms in East Quad, North Quad, and Massell Quad. This past week they turned what was a hypothetical a few years ago, into a reality when they set up free menstrual dispeners in all freshman residence halls. On Jan. 23, 2023, The Hoot spoke with Undergraduate Student Union president, Peyton Gillespie ‘25, PAD president, Kyla Speizer ‘23, and PAD advocacy chair, Grace Lassila ‘25, to discuss PAD’s pilot program of free menstrual products across campus. The Hoot asked Gillespie, Speizer, and Lassila a few questions to better understand the program and their future plans for this pilot project. 

 

The Hoot: Grace and Kyla, I know you previously stated your positions in PAD, but can you explain a little more about what you do in those roles?

 

Speizer: So I’m the president of PAD, so I handle the general administrative work for the organization, lead events, as well as work with Peyton on this initiative for free products. Just daily activities involved to keep our club running smoothly 

 

Lassila: Advocacy Chair, this involves any advocacy work on-campus and off. For on-campus, this is our free menstrual product initiative and pilot program. Off-campus is working on advocating for legislation, etc. 

 

The Hoot: To get into your project a bit, who is providing the funding for this program, and has this funding source been used before on campus for other programs? 

 

Gillespie: Kyla and I wrote up a CEEF application for the community enhancement and emergency fund, that is a source that comes directly out of the student activities fund, which everybody puts money into as a part of your tuition. That fund is a fund managed by the CEEF board under the Brandeis Student Union. The applications are for everybody to apply to, it has $250,000 in the fund per year; all projects are considered and voted on. That is where the funding has been coming from and that has been a tremendous help, so shout out to the CEEF board. 

 

The Hoot: What prompted the start of this program? Was there a specific incident or problem that happened on campus that shaped this program? 

 

Speizer: This has been a goal of PAD’s since its founding in spring of 2019. Free products on campus have been something we’ve been fighting for since then. There was an initiative pre-pandemic that got put on pause, and then the Student Union led an initiative around the same time to have free dispensers in 9 locations on campus, which still do have free products. But again, with the pandemic there were some difficulties with that program. So, in fall of 2021, Peyton and our former advocacy chair, Savannah Jackson [’22], came together and decided that now was the time that we really were going to make this happen. So, Savannah Jackson led a survey of menstruators and non-menstruaters on campus to determine the need for the products, as well as period inequity and period poverty on campus. That survey sort of showed us what we already knew, which was that we do need free products on campus. So then in response to that, Savannah Jackson wrote a 29-page report on the state of menstrual product access. In response to that, we said it was time to actually propose something to the administration. That is when we decided that the free menstrual products in freshman bathrooms was going to be our first pilot program.

 

The Hoot: Can you tell us a little bit about the Aunt Flow products that you are currently using? 

 

Speizer: Aunt Flow is a women-run business that is based in Columbus, OH. The products themselves are 100% cotton and 100% organic. We’ve had menstruators on campus test them and let us know their thoughts on them. They’re definitely my number one choice for free products in bathrooms; they’re super comfortable and I use them myself. They also check all the boxes; they hold 2x more products in their dispensers than average dispensers. So, their company has been really helpful and great to work with. 

 

Lassila: We’ve just been trying to get feedback. When we were first looking at Aunt Flow, we really wanted to make sure that the products were comfortable, and that menstruators would actually use them. We also made sure to test the products before we actually started using them.

 

Gillespie: I want to emphasize briefly that Aunt Flow has done surveys of other college campuses that they’ve partnered with and have gotten feedback as well. So a huge part of selecting these products was that other students felt comfortable using them on other college campuses. 

 

The Hoot: What exactly is your goal for this program? What do you hope to achieve in the near future? 

 

Gillespie: Our ultimate goal is to get free menstrual products in all restrooms across campus, that includes mens restrooms. That is a long-term goal that we have set that will take a long time to achieve, and I think we recognize that. That stage that we’re at right now is finding funding for expanding the program. The amount of funding that we find determines how much we can expand the program. We think that that funding also rides on the success of the pilot and the data that we gather from it. It’s really just about placing those building blocks and setting a legacy for other/future PAD presidents and Student Union presidents and PAD advocacy chairs to work together to continue this initiative and ensure that it is seen through. 

 

The Hoot: You said that for your pilot program you’ve been placing free menstrual products in freshman women’s and gender neutral restrooms, why did you choose those locations specifically? 

 

Lassila: After Savannah did her report, it basically showed the freshman are the class that is in the most need of free menstrual products. As a class they have the least amount of access on campus, the least amount of funding. So we figured we would put the free products first where students seem to need them the most. In terms of women’s and gender neutral bathrooms, something that is really part of PAD’s mission is that not all menstruators are women and not all women are menstruators. Making sure that in not only women’s restrooms but gender neutral restrooms, that was a big priority as well. Long-term a goal would also be to put them in men’s restrooms. But that is also contingent on how much funding we get and what the success of this project looks like. 

 

Speizer: The freshman class is also the biggest class, so they’re the biggest population that we can support. Also, up until this point, there were never any dispensers free or paid in any residence halls, so this was our first point to get into residence halls—to meet the needs of the biggest population that lives on campus. 

 

The Hoot: How are you currently assessing your pilot project? What are you basing it off of? 

 

Speizer: We’re assessing the need based on how the product is being used. So we have a system for tracking the use of the product and how much product we’re going through to determine whether it’s something that students need and are using, but are also using responsibly. We make sure that one person isn’t just coming and taking all 50 pads or all 50 tampons at once. We are also currently getting testimonials from students on how they view the project and what they think about how it is going. In terms of how we plan to use this, we’re going to prove to the administration that this is something that works, this is something that we’ve done, and this is something that students need. Most of it is just monitoring the dispensers and making sure that they’re not being misused, and that everyone is respecting them and using them wisely. 

 

Gillespie: I think overall it’s a numbers game. It’s a game of how many products are being used, how often are they being used, how often do we have to restock them, and what does that translate in terms of cost for us? It’s really all about demonstrating to the administration that this is something worth wild; that it works. This is why we have that form and will be on top of restocking the dispensers and monitoring numbers. We hope to eventually compile a presentation to bring to the administration and say “hey, this is why this works, this is how much it’s going to cost, and there’s really no reason to say no. 

 

The Hoot: What can the Brandeis community do for you? Do you have any open board positions? Or is there anything else you’d like the community to know about this pilot project? 

 

Lassila: Just from a PAD perspective, if you’re passionate about this project come to our meetings, come to our events, or just come talk to us. Our entire e-board is very friendly and open to talking about any and all topics relating to this. We actually have applications for a Treasurer position open right now, so if anyone wants to join e-board, we definitely want to get more momentum there. In general, just come talk to us; the more people the better. If you’re a freshman in these dorms, we’d love for you to give us your testimonials and for you to tell us what you think we’re doing right and wrong. Any feedback from the Brandeis community is incredibly helpful, as we are and have always been trying to do what Brandeis students want. 

 

Gillespie: I will say, I was a member of PAD before I was a member of the Student Union. PAD is a wonderful environment for people of all genders, it is really inclusive, and I learned a lot as a member of the club. All in all, I encourage people to join and pitch in to this project. 

 

As PAD jumpstarts their pilot project and continues to assess its success, they will still be holding various events and programs across campus throughout the spring semester. They hold weekly meetings on Wednesdays in the Shapiro Campus Center, and look forward to continuing to meet and evaluate the needs of Brandeis students.

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