That Time of the Month Just Got a Bit Easier
Aunt Flow is visiting. It’s shark week. The redcoats are coming. Confused? Well, at some point every month, some people will begin menstruating. To make this time easier, the Peer Health Educators (PHEs), alongside the Health Promotions director, Jennifer McDonald, created a campaign to provide tampons and pads to all restrooms around campus.
Peer Health Educators started the program back in 2017 after the Tang Museum hosted the Moon Catcher Project, a project that strives to “optimize girl’s lives worldwide by removing barriers related to menstruation.” Like the Moon Catcher Project, PHE’s wanted to provide free menstrual items to students not only as a hygienic necessity, but also as it relates to educational equality.
McDonald explained that Health Promotions has been offering free menstrual products out of the Student Wellness Center for several years, but to access those products students had to actually visit the center and ask for them. She went on to explain that not all students who menstruate felt comfortable doing this. McDonald and the PHE’s then decided to pilot the program in the spring of 2018, deciding they would put small baskets with products in a number of bathrooms on campus.
The first run was quite successful. Students appreciated having access to products, and McDonald received a lot of positive feedback. In particular, folks were pleased to see that we were not limiting product access to the women’s restrooms.
"I often find myself in situations where I don't have what I need. These baskets help me to avoid awkwardly asking people I don't know for a tampon. I'm glad Skidmore has this and I wish other public bathrooms did too," said a fellow student.
However, McDonald admitted that there was a bit of trouble with the baskets they put in restrooms designated “gender neutral” or as “men’s” bathrooms -- they quickly realized that they had to increase their educational messaging. For example, several of the baskets that we put in men’s bathrooms were removed and left outside of the door of the closest women’s bathroom. McDonald assumed that the people moving the baskets didn’t realize that they left them in men’s bathrooms intentionally, and that not all individuals who menstruate use the women’s bathrooms.
In response to this misunderstanding, the PHEs changed their signs to be more explicit, explaining why they may be necessary in a men’s restroom. These new signs also provide a bit of educational information about the baskets themselves — that while certain students may see no need for them, others will, and to not remove them.
While the program has been running well, last semester saw some issues with refilling the products. McDonald acknowledges the issues and admits that she doesn't have a perfect system yet. Currently, she is funding this initiative out of her department budget, which means the PHEs can only provide products in a subset of restrooms on campus and have a limited supply each semester.
A group of PHE volunteers are responsible for keeping tabs on the baskets and restocking them when the supply runs low. The PHEs check the baskets once per week and usually that’s often enough, but sometimes there is a particularly busy week, and the supplies run out sooner.
McDonald, her department, and the PHEs are still very much in the pilot phase of this project and will continue to explore strategies this academic year to hopefully land on a system that works well for our campus. The PHEs hope that through initiatives like this that people will move towards eliminating the cultural taboo of periods, while also ending menstrual inequality.