Unsplash

The Free Menstrual Product Initiative, led by the Graduate & Professional Student Senate and the Women Faculty Forum, has begun placing free menstrual hygiene products in Sterling Library restrooms.

The initiative — also known as the Period Project — gained traction when the GPSS submitted a report recommending free menstrual products to the Yale Board of Trustees during the 2018-19 academic year. The goal of the project is to provide free menstrual hygiene and sanitary products at specific locations across campus on a short-term basis, with the ultimate purpose of convincing the University administration to support a permanent provision of products across all Yale campuses.

“We believe that menstruation should not pose a barrier to meaningful participation in life at Yale, whether that be academic responsibilities or extracurricular activities,” said Brianna Jackson NUR ’25, GPSS advocacy chair and one of the team leads of the Period Project. “As a necessary and recurring expense, menstrual hygiene products such as tampons, pads and pantiliners may represent a financial constraint for many, detracting from other basic needs, preventing involvement in Yale programming or even leading to the use of unsafe and/or unsanitary materials to staunch blood flow. Through the Period Project, we hope that members of the Yale community will never have to make such difficult choices, and instead can freely and actively participate in life at Yale without hesitation.”

Jackson noted that while the Period Project team expects that many professional students will continue to purchase their own menstrual hygiene products, they hope the take-what-you-need approach will help those for whom such products can be an economic burden.

She also added that the initiative hopes to ignite a more open dialogue on menstruation and other “gender-based and historically taboo issues.”

“If we are to cultivate a more inclusive, equity-oriented campus culture, it’s important that we’re engaging in critical conversations and challenging harmful perceptions,” Jackson said.

Although both the GPSS and the WFF have previously discussed provision of free menstrual hygiene products, Chrishan Fernando GRD ’25 — a GPSS Executive Board fellow and Period Project team lead — noted that he was especially inspired after learning about the Yale College Council providing free menstrual products in residential colleges. He described the Period Project’s plan as drawing influence from the YCC’s initiative in many ways.

Fernando first encountered the advocacy for free menstrual products as an undergraduate student at Purdue University, where he was involved in student government.

“At first, I didn’t quite understand it,” he said. “I am a cisgender male; I don’t menstruate. I was kind of looking at it like, why should my activities fees be going to pay for something that I don’t have to deal with?”

He described his change in opinion after trying to understand the issue from the perspective of an individual who does experience menstruation.

“If you have to use the restroom in a public space, you can sort of take it for granted that they’re going to provide toilet paper,” Fernando explained. “I was thinking about how weird it would be if they didn’t have that, and we just had to carry toilet paper rolls around with us and stuff like that. It’s kind of ridiculous.”

Since joining the GPSS, Fernando has made the provision of menstrual hygiene products his chief goal as a GPSS officer.

However, while the project has been under development for multiple years, Reina Maruyama — an associate professor of physics and astronomy, current chair-elect for the WFF and a team lead for the Period Project — commented that it has become especially important during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Many students and postdocs were working on campus especially in the science buildings and it was not easy to go out to stores,” Maruyama wrote in an email to the News.

Maruyama also noted that the Physics Department has been providing free menstrual products in their bathrooms for many years. The joint effort of the GPSS and WFF is an extension of something that she has been thinking about for a “long time.”

Currently, the Period Project team is supplying products to two restrooms in Sterling Library: one men’s restroom and one women’s restroom. Fernando noted that while there was a discussion about whether products should be placed in the men’s restrooms — the YCC chose not to include them in the residential colleges’ men’s restrooms for financial reasons — the group ultimately decided to supply them, particularly since their goal is to collect data on the degree of usage.

“We don’t really know how many products will get used either in men’s restrooms, or women’s restrooms, or gender-inclusive restrooms either,” Fernando said. 

The project hopes to measure the usage of the products, as well as to gather direct feedback from students themselves. Students can report their thoughts through a survey that can be found on the GPSS website as well as through QR codes on posters created by the Period Project team. They can also request a refill through these methods when products run out.

The initiative is now taking the next steps to expand to other locations across campus. Due to limited funding, they plan to supply only high-traffic areas and are accepting suggestions for bathrooms that might most need products.

But Fernando noted that this expansion will also create some logistical obstacles for the team, since products are currently stocked by members of the team itself.

“If you expand out, it’s going to be tougher for just a handful of us to start stocking several locations across campus,” Fernando said. “We’re talking about that and trying to figure it out right now, but we always appreciate it if anybody’s willing to help us out.”

The GPSS and the WFF officially confirmed their collaboration on the Period Project in March of this year.

ISABELLE QIAN
Isabelle Qian covers graduate student affairs. She is a first year in Pierson College and comes from Seattle, WA.