The average Yale student’s day is stressful enough without the surprise of an unexpected period. For students who menstruate, the looming stress of forgetting a pad or tampon is constantly hovering over them, regardless of whether they’re on their cycle or not. The experience is unavoidable: you wear your favorite pair of light wash jeans that suddenly become not-so light wash. Should you be lucky enough, you might be in your dorm when this happens. The unlucky, however, must depend on the spare pad that might be lingering at the bottom of their backpack or on the goodness of others. The really unlucky are forced to miss classes and meetings in order to remedy a situation they had no control over. Now, how would that change if Yale provided universal access to menstrual products in bathrooms across campus?
College students across the country face barriers to accessing menstrual products, with one in 10 students reporting an inability to afford menstrual products each month. In addition to financial obstacles, the dynamic and stressful nature of college life can lead to unpredictable menstrual cycles that surface when students are far from home and their circles of support. This inaccessibility can lead to isolation, absence from classes and social engagements and greater self-reported rates of moderate or severe depression. Yale students experience this “period poverty,” a term used to describe the barriers to adequate menstrual products, education and sanitation. And yet, Yale is not doing nearly enough in response. So far, its approach has been patchwork and inadequate in meeting the needs of students.
By failing to provide menstrual products in campus bathrooms, Yale is failing to keep up with its peer institutions. As the Yale Daily News recently reported, both Middlebury and Harvard have worked to provide access to menstrual products in campus bathrooms, with a number of other universities also working to expand access. Additionally, it is now required by law that all Connecticut public schools provide menstrual products in bathrooms. As a private institution, Yale should be held to the same standard, especially because it has the financial capacity to provide this impactful service to its students. The truth is that If Yale were primarily concerned with student dignity and equity, it would already have taken this common-sense step.
Yale currently supplies menstrual products through the Office of Gender and Campus Culture. After the Yale College Council launched a pilot program in 2019 to supply menstrual products in residential college basements and entryways on Old Campus, Yale decided to sign on. While the OGCC purchases the products, Communication and Consent Educators are responsible for resupplying as needed. However, in this system, CCEs are expected to constantly monitor the supply of products, as there isn’t a reporting system for when products run out. The result of the decentralized nature of this restocking system is an inconsistent — and often lacking — supply of products across colleges.
To fill the gap that Yale has left, a variety of different student organizations have, at different times and to varying degrees, worked to keep campus bathrooms stocked with menstrual products. The Period Project, which is sponsored by the Graduate and Professional Students Senate, provided pads and tampons in the bathrooms in Sterling in 2019 and 2020, but it has struggled to supply products after a change in leadership. The YCC also recently sponsored the Yale Women’s Center with a grant to buy pads and tampons to supply to students. This stopgap measure, while effective, also demonstrates how far Yale has to come in improving equity on campus. Another effort currently underway is a YCC measure to install menstrual product dispensers at all dining hall restrooms, a pilot program that would improve access, especially for those who are far away from their residential colleges. However, despite full funding from the Yale College Council, we are yet to see residential colleges and Yale administration commit to this student funded and organized effort to expand access.
On behalf of the Yale Women’s Center and the YCC, we demand that Yale do better. Yale should consolidate the supply of menstrual products to Yale Facilities, which already maintains campus restrooms. They would check the supply of menstrual products during their weekly cleanings and restock as necessary. While Yale’s response to this demand has been that “it’s a difficult demand to implement,” the University cannot use its own bureaucracy as an excuse to delay change. The responsibility for providing basic hygiene products should not fall on the students, and the patchwork system of student organizations such as CCEs, OGCC, Period Product should be united into an official Yale initiative. It is time that Yale answers the call to end “period poverty” on campus and shows meaningful support to its first-generation, low income and gender-minoritized students.
THEIA CHATELLE is a sophomore in Grace Hopper College. She is the Political Action Coordinator at the Yale Women’s Center and the Editor-in-Chief of Broad Recognition. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org
JULIAN SUH-TOMA is a sophomore in Benjamin Franklin College. He is the YCC Senator for Franklin and member of the Health and Accessibility Policy Committee. Contact him at email@example.com