Members of the University of Michigan’s Central Student Government and other student groups promoting women’s health are teaming up to bring free menstrual products to campus.
In 2017, the free menstrual product initiative from the student group Women’s Organization on Rights to Health found that students used about 590 products each week when free menstrual products were placed in the Chemistry Building, Mason Hall, Pierpont Commons and Walgreen Drama Center.
Now, three years later, the Menstrual Products Initiative is working to enact a University-wide program that ensures the availability of free menstrual products in all bathrooms. Members of CSG and student organizations that advocate for women’s rights like The Dot Org and WORTH are collaborating on the initiative.
Public Health junior Nithya Arun, CSG policy advisor, said the program aims to ensure accessibility and availability of menstrual products for all members of the campus community. She said according to a study conducted by The Dot Org, 86% of people who menstruate find themselves in a situation where they do not have access to menstrual products. She said having free menstrual products in all U-M bathrooms will help combat this.
“There’s very limited access to free menstrual products in the University bathrooms. I have definitely found myself in those situations where I’ve just had to stuff whatever,” Arun said. “That’s a breeding ground for infections and so many different problems. This is an affordability issue, it’s an accessibility issue and it’s a health issue.”
LSA junior Olivia Hintz, The Dot Org partnerships director, said the women’s health organizations on campus and CSG have worked collaboratively to ensure that the need for free menstrual products in bathrooms reaches U-M administration. The coalition met with Regents Mark Bernstein, Jordan Acker, Paul Brown and Ron Weiser, in addition to administrators including Associate Vice President Anjali Aturkar in an attempt to get this program enacted.
“We started by meeting at Shapiro Library every two weeks,” Hintz said. “We would send out emails to Regents, we would draft resolutions, we would draft possible petitions that we were going to put out.”
“It is imperative as a University that calls itself the leaders and the best to really be taking action and enact this program,” Arun said. “Today (the University is) focusing on diversity, equity and inclusion. If greater than 50 % of the population is not having their needs met, then (the University) is not really focusing on that at all.”
Hintz said pilot projects run by The Dot Org, Worth and the University’s Office of Student Life have shown that there is a dire need for access to free menstrual products and that the coalition is working with the administration to make this program possible.
“We get amazing feedback saying (the pilot program) was so helpful, and that (people) really needed a product at a certain point,” Hintz said. “We’re pushing for this to actually get through.”
Engineering junior Carla Voigt, speaker of the CSG Assembly, said one of the barriers faced by the initiative is the U-M administration’s push for pilot programs. She said the initiative finds it frustrating that the administration is only willing to conduct more pilot projects even though other Universities have enacted successful programs.
“It’s kind of demotivating because we have already had so many (pilot programs),” Voigt said. “We’ve had ones from several different (student) organizations, CSG also did one. At this point, it’s not the time for a pilot program anymore. We need to move on.”
Despite running into this roadblock, the Menstrual Products Initiative aims to instate this program in the upcoming school year.
Arun also said the initiative is having difficulty getting in contact with and working with U-M administrators due to uncertainties caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, even though the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic makes it even more important to have this program enacted.
“Now, more than ever, we need a program that will support students,” Arun said. “This is a very hard time — financially and mentally. The University should be doing everything in its power to ensure the basic necessities of all students are being met.”
Daily Staff Reporter Navya Gupta can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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