Nithy Baskaran

Despite initial logistical challenges, almost two weeks after the Yale College Council’s free menstrual product program debuted in all 14 colleges, residential college operations managers have praised the program.

In interviews with the News, operations managers from several residential colleges reported varying levels of product usage and overall awareness about the program, which kicked off on Monday, Feb. 11. Some managers also pointed out logistical issues in the beginning weeks of distribution — such as figuring out where to store the products — which they believe will improve as the program continues. All four managers interviewed said that they are happy to be a part of bringing free menstrual products to students and expressed hope that the program will continue far into the future.

According to Yale College Council Vice President Heidi Dong ’20, seven out of the 14 colleges used a total of 138 menstrual discs, 190 daytime pads, 70 Maxim pads, 46 Maxim tampons, 173 plastic applicator tampons and 188 liners as of Tuesday night. Dong noted that the YCC is unsure whether the numbers are entirely up-to-date, as each residential college tracks the numbers independently. She added that the YCC does not have data for all 14 colleges, as the Council did not make tracking mandatory.

“It’s really encouraging to see how many people are excited about the program, and I think our numbers so far definitely make the case that this is a program that students do actually use,” Dong said. “I’m grateful to all the people who have put in work to make this a reality, especially residential college staff who added new jobs to their existing responsibilities.”

Operations managers interviewed by the News said that their colleges have been able to keep up with the demand.

Ezra Stiles operations manager Marc Levenson said that the college did not begin providing free products until last Friday due to shipment delays and the busyness of Stiles Art Week. But when the college first made the products available and the Stiles YCC representative sent out an email to the community, the products quickly disappeared, he said. Following the “initial rush” after the email, however, product depletion has slowed down, he added.

Morse College operations manager Alexa Martindale told the News that the free menstrual products “have not been flying off the shelves, so to speak,” which she said might be due to students using up their own personal supplies of menstrual products before taking the free ones. Micah Luce, operations manager for Saybrook, said that Saybrook college aides have not had to restock the baskets very often, but noted that he does not think the current usage numbers are “indicative of any [long-term] trends.”

“The initial challenges seem to revolve around clear communication,” Luce wrote in an email to the News. “We have announced the pilot program to Saybrook via email and small signage around the college, but given the slow response, I believe there are still some unseen hurdles to letting individuals know these products are available.”

Martindale said that Morse’s products are located in the college’s laundry rooms, which “seemed like a natural place to add these products,” as the rooms already acted as distribution locations for condoms and lubricant. Saybrook, Silliman and Stiles also opted for laundry room distribution. Additionally, Silliman put some products in the newly created Good Life Center and Saybrook continued distribution in its college office bathrooms.

Martindale noted that the one drawback of the laundry room location is that the products are not immediately available to students when they begin menstruating unexpectedly.

“I would love to try to figure out how to get them closer to a place where they could be utilized in a more emergency type of situation,” Martindale said. “But for the time being, I think that the laundry room is a great spot to start off.”

According to Levenson, Stiles also has a product distribution location in the gender-neutral, single-use bathroom in the college library. He said that the supply in the laundry rooms has been running out more quickly so far, adding that this might happen because the bathroom is less immediately accessible, seeing that it is single-use and may have an occupant. Still, Levenson noted that having a location where the products are less likely to be used up could be useful in case the more popular locations run out of product over the weekends.

Levenson said that “getting going had its challenges,” adding that finding a storage location for the products was difficult in Stiles and other colleges with little storage space. Currently, Stiles is storing their products in the former math and science tutor office, which is now a storage room.

Luce added that some logistical challenges arose because the YCC gave the residential college managers short notice before the program was supposed to launch.

“Though I would imagine the YCC has worked on this program for quite some time, the communication from the YCC to the Operations Managers in the colleges happened very quickly,” Luce wrote in an email to the News. “I only heard about the program in mid-January, which did not leave much time for thinking thoroughly through potential challenges or how, logistically speaking, we would effectively execute the details of what was being requested — re: financing, distribution, restocking, tracking.”

Still, Luce said that the YCC members who spearheaded the program have been responsive to his questions and to “the needs we have expressed that are particular to our college.” He added that part of the role of an operations manager is to “creatively provide solutions for interesting issues, and this very important and good work warrants such creativity.” Luce praised the kindness and diligence of the YCC team in providing supplies for the program, such as signage, baskets to hold the products, spreadsheets for tracking and the menstrual products themselves.

The managers also noted that they believe the program and the way it is run will change as the project moves forward and more usage data is collected.

“I think it’ll be a challenge across campus and it’ll take some time to gauge demand and see how this gets normalized across the colleges,” Levenson said. “I definitely have bumped into people who’ve been very happy … [The reaction] is very positive.”

Last spring, the YCC conducted pilot versions of this program in Silliman and Morse.

Asha Prihar | asha.prihar@yale.edu