Aunt Flow. “That time of the month.” Menzies. Surfing the crimson wave (and no, not at the Yale-Harvard football game).
We call menstruation by anything but its real name. Students hide tampons in their sleeves and rush to the bathroom; they mutter that they’re feeling “under the weather” as they double over with cramps. In a Yale College Council meeting last spring, a presentation on the progress of our menstrual product pilot program was met with averted eyes, awkward silence and uncomfortable shifting in chairs.
Half of this campus menstruates, and it’s time that we started talking about it.
Today marks the launch of the YCC’s new program to offer free menstrual products in all 14 residential colleges. With the help of countless residential college members — heads of college, operations managers, administrative assistants, college aides, YCC representatives and more — and the generosity of national sponsors, we are proud to announce an initiative that aims to level the playing field and meet student demand. Today marks the start of a conversation.
For many, menstrual products are as necessary as toilet paper — which is provided to students free of charge — and accommodate a process that is just as natural. Other products such as condoms and lubricant are also provided free of charge to students, often mere steps away from their dorm rooms. The university provides these products in the interest of promoting student health — menstruation is a part of this equation and a glaring omission in current provisions.
Few people discuss the fact that the cost of menstrual products can be a severe financial burden. People who menstruate can spend over $150 a year on menstrual products. In 2017, when the YCC asked students whether buying menstrual products presented a financial burden, 46 percent confirmed that it presented some degree of burden. This included 64 percent of self-identifying low-income students as well as 40 percent of other Yale undergraduates. The provision of free menstrual products is not just about some vague theory of equity amongst those who menstruate and those who don’t. Rather, it’s about the very real need for equal access to essential resources regardless of students’ financial means.
Our initial menstrual product pilot program last year was a success, but students wanted more. As a student government, our aim is to meet the needs and demands of the student body. Seventy-eight percent of students who use menstrual products reported that they would use Yale-provided products instead of purchasing their own if they were made available in buildings on campus. This was a clear demand, and so we set out to meet it.
Since last fall, we have lobbied administrators, created nightmarish spreadsheets of logistical information and carted boxes of tampons across campus. Although the creation of this program was a big win, it is far from perfect. It will need to be refined and improved over time, but we are committed to this endeavor and all that it stands for.
Similarly, while free menstrual product availability is a step in the right direction, it doesn’t take us nearly far enough. We all must fight to continue a larger conversation on menstruation. There are already people who are making strides toward changing the way we understand this reality. Aishwarya Bhattacharya ’21’s op-ed on menstruating while homeless, Nyamal Tuor ’20’s op-ed on the history of menstruation and female reproductive health and Mary Orsak ’22’s op-ed on the need for free menstrual products — all published in the last year — make powerful arguments and highlight important discussions that we as a campus, and as a society, should be seriously considering. In addition, PERIOD@Yale continues to do important work to destigmatize and increase access to menstrual products in the New Haven community. The tide is rising on menstrual equity, and we aim to add to its momentum.
We at the YCC are deeply grateful for all those who have helped us make this important change, while acknowledging that there is still a lot of work to be done. A first and crucial step is to ensure the success of this program. A second is to secure continued institutional support of the provision of free menstrual products as a clear sign of Yale’s investment in this issue. The third is to make this moment the start of a widespread shift in how we treat a natural process that affects half of our society.
And so we issue a challenge — to students, to administrators, to Yalies and non-Yalies alike — to use this initiative as a springboard for broader change. Boldly carry your tampon in your hand. Declare that period cramps have you down. And speak up about menstrual equity: It’s time to ride the crimson wave.
Samir Al-Ali is a sophomore in Silliman College. Heidi Dong is a junior in Morse College. Saloni Rao is a junior in Davenport College. Contact them at firstname.lastname@example.org , email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org , respectively.