As we transition to an environment of in-person learning after the COVID-19 pandemic, Lewis & Clark should prioritize making free period products available, especially in academic buildings.
Currently, access to period products on LC’s undergraduate campus is inconsistent and sorely lacking. In academic buildings like Miller Hall, students can find a menstrual product dispenser in some of the gender-neutral bathrooms, but are required to pay $0.50 for a pad or a tampon. In dorms like Platt-Howard Hall, none of the bathrooms include a menstrual product dispenser. It is only in Watzek Library and in the Feminist Student Union’s (FSU) office in Templeton Student Center where you can find free period products supplied by LC students.
Common dismissive responses to concerns about access to period products include that most people bring their own pads, tampons, menstrual cups or period underwear to campus with them. This is true, but it ignores a common scenario that those who experience periods, myself included, know all too well: when “that time of the month” catches you by surprise in class.
It is difficult to put into words how stressful this experience feels in the moment, especially if you are in the middle of an in-person exam or about to make a presentation. You panic about the possibility of having bled through your clothes. You scan the class for someone you might ask to borrow a pad or tampon from. When I was in middle school, feelings of shame and embarrassment about my own body kept me from asking for help. Instead, I would fashion a makeshift temporary pad out of toilet paper, taking away from valuable time that I could have spent in class.
We are taught to understand periods as the regular, predictable culmination of a 28-day cycle. However, too much exercise, taking hormonal birth control and having polycystic ovary syndrome or endometriosis can cause inconsistencies that lead to these period emergencies.
For transgender men, undergoing testosterone hormone therapy can also lead to irregular spotting. As a cisgender woman, I can only imagine the stigma that comes with asking to borrow a pad or tampon from classmates when you are a man or a non-binary individual.
Much of the anxiety that accompanies unexpected periods can be prevented with access to free pads and tampons in campus buildings. Unfortunately, the responsibility to provide these products has fallen on resident advisors (RAs) and the FSU.
RA Gabe Huerta ’22 has chosen to put out pads and tampons for students living on the two lower floors of Howard Hall, but his decision is far from the standard at LC.
“My first year as an RA, period products were not expected to be put out by each RA, nor are they now,” Huerta said via email.
Pads and tampons are purchased through the Campus Living budget. However, “the all-hall supply of products depends on if that year’s RA staff team wants to invest in the products,” Huerta said.
Huerta explained the reasoning behind his decision to distribute the products.
“I do this both in case of unexpected period emergencies, as well as for the safety and comfort of my residents in knowing that they have access to these products through me,” he said.
At liberal arts colleges across the nation, those who advocate for access to period products often criticize the relative availability of free condoms, which at LC are provided by RAs. To me, this stance is counterproductive because shifting focus entirely from condoms to period products would sacrifice the student body’s sexual health to promote its menstrual health. Free condoms are a matter of equity, so that no Pioneer is unable to afford protection from unwanted pregnancy or the spread of sexually-transmitted infections.
It is not only possible, but necessary, to hold space for both menstruating and sexually active students who need affordable resources. While the RAs who provide both products already should be commended, it is unfair to expect them to solve a problem that requires a comprehensive response from Campus Living and the LC administration.
By making free period products available at LC, the college can take another step toward upholding its institutional promise to create a nurturing environment for a community of scholars.
This article presents opinions held by the author, not those of The Pioneer Log, its editorial board or those interviewed for background information.