Last April, the Yale College Council inaugurated a pilot program that provided free menstrual hygiene products in two residential colleges, Morse and Silliman. They did so after a YCC report revealed that 360 students of the 776 surveyed who purchase menstrual hygiene products agreed that such purchases “presented a degree of financial burden.”
Although the program elicited immense support from the Yale community, the YCC did not have the funding necessary to continue the program for more than a month. The program reflected an important first step toward improving both gender and socioeconomic equality on campus, but the University must now employ its superior resources to complete the efforts started by the YCC. Tampons and pads are not luxuries but necessities, and the University must fulfill its obligation to provide an inclusive and supportive environment to all its students by adequately supporting those who menstruate.
Many students struggle to obtain inexpensive pads and tampons. I calculated that I spend approximately $120 a year on my period, and although I am privileged enough to afford this cost, not all members of the student body can say the same. This financial burden should never prohibit anyone on campus from going about their daily lives.
At Durfee’s Sweet Shoppe, one can purchase 18 Tampax Pearl tampons for $8, 14 Always maxi pads for $6.30 or 20 panty liners for $2.20. While I understand the value of convenience and the necessity to turn a profit, these prices are far higher than those at Walgreens and CVS. In an emergency, I am not going to take a 15-minute walk to Walgreens or CVS, but Yale should not capitalize on my, or anyone else’s, monthly “gift.” Ultimately, no student should have to use a lunch swipe to obtain menstrual products.
Additionally, nearly every women’s restroom I have entered displays signs discouraging people from flushing used menstrual hygiene products down the toilet. I wish that I could follow the directions of these often threatening signs, which are written in bold, all-caps typeface, but few bathrooms at Yale actually offer receptacles for disposing of these products discreetly and sanitarily. If the University cannot provide free sanitary products, the least it could do is to supply trash cans in the stalls.
Providing free sanitary products is no pipe dream. In the fall of 2016, the Brown University Undergraduate Council of Students stocked the university’s nonresidential bathrooms — male, female and gender-inclusive — with tampons and sanitary napkins. The president of the Undergraduate Council of Students Viet Nguyen wrote in a statement released on Sept. 6, 2016, “We hope that this step, making Brown one of the first institutions in higher education to implement such a program at this scale, will motivate other universities and student governments to take similar actions to address this issue of equity.”
Even the city of New York approved a measure to supply free tampons and pads to all women in homeless shelters, public schools and prisons. This program is estimated to provide 2 million tampons and 3.5 million pads to homeless shelters alone.
If Yale decides to implement the project –– which it should –– the University must consider two crucial aspects before doing so: convenience and inclusivity.
The Columbia College Student Council and the Engineering Student Council piloted a program that provided free menstrual hygiene products to students at Columbia Medical Services in March of 2016. After several months, however, the College Student Council suspended the program due to lack of interest. According to the Columbia Spectator, 137 students picked up 635 tampons and 200 pads from Medical Services.
But the problem is not one of indifference. The main problem with a program such as this is its inconvenience. Menstruation often involves an element of urgency, and trekking across campus to the Medical Services building defeats the purpose of providing easy access to menstrual products. Yale must learn from Columbia’s mistake and supply tampons and pads in all bathrooms across campus.
Yale must take into account the diversity of students who would benefit from this program. Menstruation is not limited to individuals who use a women’s restroom. Consequently, this program should provide menstrual products in all bathrooms on campus.
Ultimately, I chose Yale because of its commitment to supporting its diverse student body. I urge the University to live up to this promise.
Mary Orsak is a first year in Pierson College. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org .