'Gender equity in public spaces': Utah State University to provide free menstrual products for students

The Associated Press [Mar-18-2016]

(The Associated Press)

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LOGAN — Who walks around with quarters in their pockets anymore? In the world of online banking, pretty much no one, least of all college students. But for a menstruating individual caught in public without supplies, you'd better hope you have quarters.

That's what students in Utah State University's Women in Business Association quickly realized after a conversation about the inconvenience of obtaining menstruation products in public spaces turned into political action. Now, the university is working on removing the pay barrier for tampons and pads in bathrooms and instead will provide them free of charge.

"As a female student, the last thing you want to have to worry about is an unexpected emergency and just small acts like this show that we care about our students," said Lianne Wappett, faculty co-advisor for the group. "We want them to focus on their academics, not on emergencies, and it's exciting to see small steps towards what I would call equitable access to products in the bathroom; we already know we have paper towels for drying your hands and we provide toilet paper for free. And now we have feminine products that are going to be available."

Members of the club quickly connected with Brock Hardcastle, who later brought attention to the issue during his campaign for student senator of the Huntsman School of Business. Once elected, Hardcastle got to work to address the inaccessibility of period products on campus.

"I started reaching out to different facilities on campus trying to get an idea of how we could make this change, I did some research looking into how other schools have done it, if it was even possible," he said.

Instead of completely replacing the dispensers in each women's bathroom, Hardcastle was able to obtain a facilities enhancement grant of $35,000 to cover the cost of instead replacing the mechanism in the machines that requires a payment to dispense a product. Once the project is complete, a simple spin of the dial will produce either a sanitary napkin or a tampon, free of charge.

The grant will only cover the upfront cost of adapting the machines, but the school will be responsible for the yearly costs of supplying the actual pads and tampons provided in the machines.

James Morales, vice president for student affairs, estimates that cost could be around $600 yearly, depending on what types of products the school decides to stock the machine with. After recent feedback from some students, school administrators realized they may need to change the type of products originally considered to ensure they are of good quality.

The school may even host some focus groups with students to make sure the best products are chosen.

I think it's a huge step forward for Utah with gender equity in public spaces, looking at how we can make it so that both sides are really prospering. It's definitely something that I'd love to see across all Utah across the United States.

–Brock Hardcastle, student senator for USU Huntsman School of Business

Whatever the cost ends up being in the end, Morales said the school will pay for it.

"If that doubles the cost or triples the cost, we are completely committed to that on an annual basis," he said.

The project will likely be completed sometime over the summer at USU's main Logan campus, with future plans to implement the change across the university's regional campuses, according to Morales.

Unexpectedly getting a period while in public, especially while attending classes, can be disruptive to anyone. According to a study by Free The Tampons, 86% of U.S. women between 18-54 years old have unexpectedly started their period without proper supplies while in public. The data also revealed that of the 48% who used the tampon/pad dispenser in the restroom, only 8% reported the machine even worked. Another 34% ended up leaving altogether to go get the necessary supplies while a staggering 79% made a temporary fix with toilet paper in the restroom.

"Sometimes it's the people who are economically disadvantaged, who really struggle with making sure they have the right products, and it would be just, I think it'd be great if all public buildings have those available to our citizens," Wappett said.

For Baylee Haws, president of USU's Women in Business Association, providing these products free to students will help take away any potential stress of an emergency on campus.

"It's nice to know I have the resources I need to make it through the day without being nervous that I have a 'girl problem,'" Haws said. "I think it's a great step for Utah State to be a leader for change in the feminine hygiene sector."

According to the university's student-run newspaper, The Utah Statesman, the school will become the first in Utah to provide the products to students for free — something Hardcastle and Morales hope to see change going forward.

In a recent meeting with other leaders of Utah's universities, Morales said he updated his colleagues from the other schools on the initiative and their response was positive.

In some instances, Hardcastle said a few of his friends have reached out to him saying they wished their school was providing the products for free.

Hardcastle said he hopes other Utah colleges stand up and make the change on their campuses after hearing about USU's success with the project so far.

"Now, other students feel empowered to make those changes at their universities," he said. "I think it's a huge step forward for Utah with gender equity in public spaces, looking at how we can make it so that both sides are really prospering. It's definitely something that I'd love to see across all Utah across the United States."

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Lauren Bennett is a reporter with KSL.com who covers Utah’s religious community and the growing tech sector in the Beehive State.


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