Free menstrual products – OPINION
For all of history, menstruation has been a taboo topic. Apparently here at Southern Connecticut State University, it still is. My name is Jae’La Rivera. For the past seven months, I have been running a campaign that challenges how accessible Southern truly is.
This all started one day whilst I was working a shift at the SAGE center. The SAGE center is Southern’s LGBTQ+ resource center, and I was surprised to see the tone of the room so somber. Upon questioning, a transgender, masculine presenting student of ours had come up to me in sheer distress. She had explained to me that she had gone outside of campus to buy menstruation products, due to her inability to find any readily available on campus; and ended up getting harassed by a fellow customer in the chosen gas station due to her masculine presenting appearance while purchasing menstruation products. Many had mentioned the singular basket of products over in the health center.
At first glance, I wanted to as well. But then I stopped to think about how I would feel if I was in this situation. “How would I, as a closeted transgender individual, feel about grabbing gender exclusive products in a public area?’ I would feel a lot of things surly, but support wouldn’t be one of them.
Once I heard her story a lot of things were put into perspective. Southern was leaving the door open by allowing this type of situation to happen. I knew if I didn’t try to do something, it would be a recurring offense. My first step began with asking around.
I started with that singular basket in the health center. Melissa Lopez and Kettle Gray, familiar faces of the Student Health Center, and Allyson Regis of the Wellbeing Center struck even more bad news onto me when they informed me that it was their own staff who funded this one basket out of their own salaries. Quickly this came to be the consensus. Everyone was supporting the Southern population out of their own pockets.
I interviewed every single female sports team; their average cost of menstruation products combined for one year was $8,000.
It doesn’t stop there.
Kari Swanson, a librarian in Buley, reported spending more than thousands of dollars of her own money for one bathroom, for one semester.
A popular sorority on campus, Delta Phi Epsilon reached out to me in support of this project. Their representatives Ally Lupo and Eve Jones reported to me that when they had tried to tackle this on their own, Southern gave them a total of $50 to fund this issue.
To break down this cost, the average cost of a pack of menstruation products in Connecticut is about $20, according to Substitute House Bill No. 5272. From here, I turned to the student body. I received upwards of three hundred responses. From women, nonbinary individuals, students, faculty, visitors. All littered with how unsupported and disgusted the lack of accessible menstruation products had made them feel.
The full report is available on the Women’s and Gender Studies instagram page. Here are just a few responses I received.
From the likes of “It tends to make me feel trapped, there is not even an option for 25 cent products, but free condoms are advertised at every corner”, to ‘I have been at the risk for toxic shock syndrome more than once due to the unavailability of products on campus” to even “I’ve had to take money out of my tuition to buy menstruation products when I was in need”.
It had begun to feel like not a single menstruating person on campus had a positive thing to say about how Southern was supporting them. My research project seemed to prove just that; with 83.9% of responders responding with NO when asked the question “Do you feel as if Southern is doing a good job at supplying menstruation products to their community?” 14.3% reported as “Unsure”. 0% reporting “Yes”. Absolutely no one served felt as if Southern was supporting them.
Determined to change these statistics, I kept asking around. To my surprise I was met with several department representatives who were an exact representation of the unsupportive stigma against people who have periods that Southern holds. Several higher education professionals cut my meetings short to tell me there was “nothing they could do” or that the issue of period poverty was not “on their to-do list”. It was this discouragement that inspired me further. I was not going to let the transgender community of Southern, the college students who are scraping a penny to support themselves, the individuals suffering from PCOS living uncomfortable lives due to the lack of support from their university, be adulterated by people who claim to represent a self accredited “Social Justice University” reduce this issue to nothing.
Everyday I was faced with a new story about just how dangerous the lack of accessible menstruation products was making the Southern population. Delta Phi Epsilon began holding menstruation drives, and with the support from departments like Women’s and Gender Studies, and organizations such as SAGE and the Student Government Association, I began to go beyond Southern in hopes of a solution.
With my head up high, I began to take this issue to ears that would actually listen. This issue reached several companies such as the National Diaper Bank Association, Aunt Flow, Planned Parenthod and the Period Poverty Project in San Jose, California. I was able to reach important political figures with this issue such as state representative Kate Fararr, even Scottish parliament member Monica Lennon.
When asked about how poorly Southern is doing at supporting menstruators, Monica Lennon had this to say, “I feel that greater (and free) access to menstrual products has a significantly positive effect on education experiences. This was one of the driving forces behind the campaign as I realized that young people who could not afford period products were often missing school when menstruating. When child poverty rises, so does period poverty and if there are no schemes in place to mitigate this, then those who menstruate have to make the difficult decision of whether to stay at home or go to school and use improper products, such as tissues. I think it’s important to remember that even when no school is missed, those experiencing period poverty are also more likely to miss out on socialization and feel isolated from their peers, which has a direct impact on their education. From accounts from schools and headteachers within Scotland, we have seen an improvement in attendance in young girls. One school in particular, Denny High in Falkirk, has said that school attendance has been positively impacted and returned to normal levels.”
With support all over the world, I was confident enough that Southern would be able to tackle this issue. I presented them with discounted information about budgeting and was anticipating the rollout of a brand new, and affordable resource on campus. However, after seven months, hundreds of student accounts, and tons of meetings. Southern still is ‘not sure’ about funding this project.
The next time you open your food delivery from a robot, grab a free condom from the washroom, gouge on insomnia cookies for the fifth time per semester, I’d like to challenge you to think about how the university you attend contests all these things as more important than providing adequate support for menstruating people.
Menstruation never has been, and never will be a choice. Thousands of students continue to menstruate with zero support from Southern every single day. I’m told to “wait and see where this goes” whilst higher ups are anticipating their new and improved fish tank.
The blatant disregard for menstruating individuals is why I spoke up in the first place, and why I continue to stand strong in the face of adversity. I am hoping that this inspires you to do the same. I am hoping that upon reading this, you can look around you and identify ways your surroundings may be unsupportive of those who menstruate.
For all of history, menstruation has been backed into a corner. People who menstruate have been forced to submit. To accept. I am hoping that my story will inspire anyone reading to challenge the limiting beliefs Southern is consciously holding against menstruating people.
Our story isn’t over until the reality of menstruating people is sustainable and accessible at this university.