Delivering American University's news and views since 1925. | Wednesday, August 15, 2018

#Lady&theTamp petition calls for free menstrual products

Student starts online petition for free access to pads and tampons

#Lady&theTamp petition calls for free menstrual products

A petition for free menstrual products for AU students, using the hashtag #Lady&theTamp, has been gaining traction online in recent weeks.

The petition, created by CAS junior Shannon Exley, began on Feb. 8 and has a total of 426 signatures as of March 5.

Exley said she was originally inspired to create the petition after reading a Washington Post article about Brown University’s student government’s efforts to provide free menstrual products to students.

Exley, a member of the AU swim team, said that when the team traveled to Bucknell University for a meet, she noticed that they had free tampons and pads in their restrooms. Exley is also the editor-in-chief of Her Campus AU, and she was motivated to write a Her Campus article explaining why AU should provide free menstrual products as well. The petition is not in partnership with Her Campus.

“I put the petition together about a couple weeks ago and I waited to share it because I wanted to talk to a few people first, such as Women’s Initiative and the Wellness Center,” Exley said. “I had been thinking about writing an article about it for a while and I thought to myself, ‘Obviously we can make this happen at our school, let’s start a petition and put it into the article.’ I thought that would be a great way to get started even if the path after that isn’t clear on how to exactly go about it.”

Exley said she is not aware if the Office of Campus Life knows about the petition yet, but she’s hopeful that they will be sympathetic and take the time to see what people are saying about the petition.

According to the petition’s webpage, the goal is to get 500 signatures, but Exley said she is planning on leaving the petition online for a few more weeks to see if they can exceed 500 signatures before bringing it to the Office of Campus Life, where it would have to be approved by Vice President for Campus Life Gail Hanson. Hanson is set to retire on March 31.

“Honestly, the more the merrier,” Exley said “I would absolutely love to have 1,000 signatures. I don’t think that’s an impossible goal at all.We’re trying to get as many people involved as we can, and we want to make sure everyone knows about this initiative.”

Emma Hankins, an undergraduate senator-at-large in student government and a sophomore in SPA, is focusing her efforts in SG on bringing free menstrual products to all bathrooms on campus. Hankins and Exley have not been collaborating, but Hankins said she saw the petition, which brought her attention to the issue. Hankins that she has been doing research on universities similar to AU to see how they have been approaching bringing free menstrual products to their campuses.

“NYU has been doing a program where they provide free products in 15 of their restrooms, University of Maryland has been doing a pilot program, same with Johns Hopkins, University of Minnesota, Cornell, University of Houston…obviously this is a big thing,” Hankins said.

Hankins said that spreading awareness about the issue is extremely important. She recommended the Free the Tampons website, which has plenty of information about making tampons accessible and how this issue impacts people who menstruate.

“It’s a matter of getting people to realize that it’s a necessity and it’s just as important as toilet paper,” Hankins said. “Just because not everyone who uses a bathroom menstruates doesn’t mean it isn’t needed.”

Exley said she doesn’t yet have the cost projections for providing menstrual products for free, as other universities that do provide free products haven’t released numbers on how expensive this effort has been.

Hankins said that if the university were to choose to invest in tampon dispensers to put in the restrooms, the initial cost to install free dispensers in bathrooms across campus would be considerable, as they can range anywhere from $200-$500.

“Other schools haven’t released their numbers,” Hankins said. “What I’ve seen in the universities I’ve been researching is that there is a pushback from the administration, so these initiatives are driven by the students and mostly end up being funded by student government.”

“Hopefully I can work with someone at the university to make that happen and maybe get those cost projections if that’s what necessary, which obviously I’m sure is a huge factor,” Exley said.

Although the petition has not been brought to the administration yet, there is strong support for the initiative online. Those who have signed the petition have left comments explaining why they signed, with some reading “Periods aren’t a choice,” and “Just as they provide condoms for free, AU needs to promote healthy feminine hygiene too!”

Exley said the fact that AU provides free condoms at the Wellness Center has been a common point brought up in the conversation.

“My goal isn’t to say that it’s not important to have free condoms on campus, because it is,” she said. ”What I talked about in the article I wrote for Her Campus is that the Wellness Center told us they get these products for free from the D.C. Health Center, but they also don’t really have the budget left over from any of this to use on these products, which is really unfortunate because I don’t know their [budget] breakdown. If they’re not spending money on these contraceptives, what are they spending money on, and why not feminine hygiene products?”

Director of the Wellness Center Mickey Irizarry said the the petition for free menstrual products is student-initiated and does not involve the Wellness Center.

Exley said she is hoping that the petition will be considered when it is presented to the Office of Campus Life.

“Vice President Gail Hanson is about to retire, and this would be a great last mark to leave on AU if she’s able to help us make this happen,” she said. “Even if she can’t, I think it would be great if she could direct us in the right direction or tell us where to go or who to talk to to make this happen.”

She also mentioned that although providing free menstrual products would be costly, it would be worth setting aside room in the budget, especially as the university expands and lets in more students.

“Obviously it’s going to cost a good amount of money, but I think about all the other things our school’s spent money on that could have been spent on feminine hygiene products,” Exley said. “I think it’s a budget expansion we should highly consider.”

adonohue@theeagleonline.com


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