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  • Collegian staff

Housing to install free period product dispensers in resident halls

Updated: Dec 4, 2023

Emma Innes

Staff writer

Update Mar. 8: The Collegian was informed that the dispensers won’t ship until late April or early May.

A collage containing pictures of various period products and leaves. Made by Anushka Srivastav.

Willamette’s office of Housing has ordered 37 period product dispensers to put in all residence hall women’s and gender neutral bathrooms. This project is led by Area Coordinator Kelsey Murray along with two Resident Advisors: President of Choice Action Team (CAT) Lily Clacy (’22), and Surya Lee (’22). Willamette has pre-ordered the dispensers from [Aunt Flow] along with 10,000 pads and 10,000 tampons. According to Murray in a later email, the dispensers won’t ship until late April or early May. Murray stated it was very difficult to find dispensers for tampons and pads that did not take money. While women's and gender neutral-bathrooms are being prioritized, Murray recognizes that there are men who menstruate and plans to put dispensers in men’s bathrooms in the future.

Clancy, who is also a sexual health specialist at the Gender Resource Advocacy Center (GRAC), said there are many barriers to accessing period products including: the cost, the ability to go to the store and the stigma around menstruation. Oregon is lucky to not have a [“tampon tax”], unlike 30 states, to add on to the cost, but some remain unable to access a need for a biological occurrence. Period products [cannot be bought] using Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits. Murray said there is an extra layer of stigma for male and gender-nonconforming menstruaters as well.

CAT sent out a survey via email earlier in the Spring 2021 semester to gauge the need of period products. They received 117 responses with every response saying they or their peers would use free period products. The survey got a nearly even spread of each class year and four graduate students, with 67.5 percent living on campus and 28.2 percent living off campus.

The survey response to "Would you use free period products if Willamette University provided them?"

CAT, described by Clancy as a “reproductive justice club” has worked in the past to get students access to period products. In previous semesters, CAT held drives for period products which were given to the Students Organizing for Access to Resources (SOAR) Center to be disbursed to students in need. Last semester, CAT partnered with Students for Sustainability, the SOAR Center and GRAC with Associated Students of Willamette University (ASWU) funding to purchase and hand out DivaCups, a reusable menstrual cup. Clancy said last year, as a resident advisor in the first-year dorms, they had extra money in the housing budget that was then used to purchase period products and baskets to keep them in for the residents.

Murray said it is important to her for the period products to be organic and ethically made from a company that uses inclusive language in its advertising. For every ten pads or tampons sold, Aunt Flow donates one to the nonprofit [Period] who helps get them to people in need. Currently, Aunt Flow only has a regular size, something Murray admits is not what everyone needs. Murray said who will maintain the dispensers is still being debated, but the current proposal is for a student leader such as a Resident Advisor or an Area Coordinator to do it.

The Housing office, the Resident Hall Association (RHA) and the Community Action Fund for Equity and Sustainability (CAFES) are funding this effort to get free period products to students. Murray said they received more money from CAFES than the $500 originally asked for, which allowed them to purchase more products and an extra dispenser to go in an undecided men’s bathroom. Funding will be added to the RHA budget specifically for reordering pads and tampons as needed.

Murray is working with the GRAC to expand access to free period products to off campus students as well, with a plan to ship them. They are partnering with [True Blossom], a company that provides free, organic period products by allowing companies to purchase advertising space on the boxes. Murray said they are looking for inclusive and local companies to partner with, but until then they will send Willamette-branded boxes. The GRAC is still looking into getting funding for this project. Murray said there is a goal to expand dispensers to academic buildings.

Currently, students can access free period products in the GRAC, the SOAR Center or the Center for Equity and Empowerment.

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