Sophomore Olivia Hallowitz found herself in an unusual spot one morning in Hillside Market. The health aisle, where hygiene products are found, had items that were grossly outnumbered with a plethora of several protective gear brands — or for transparency, condoms. 

It is no secret that college negates access to feminine health products. Throughout the history of colleges in the states, there has been a slow building movement to make health products accessible, integrating policies that offer free pads and tampons. Even with the efforts made, universities statewide still experience difficulties providing students the appropriate resources. Schools like Boston University and New York University, who made some of the earliest progress to date, have still struggled to make free dispensaries available. However, their student-run organizations have fortunately built the credibility to successfully push for administrative action — leading to their websites offering locations across campus for students to stock on free menstrual items. 

While there have been no period movements on campus, attempts in past years have led to small, but gradual changes. For one, graduate student Zoe Black chose to focus her senior project on making menstrual items more accessible. As an undergraduate at the time, she made it her mission to equate feminine equity with equipped resources. Although that created a huge step forward towards stitching the rift in the community, the momentum carried from that group left as soon as it started when the early cases of COVID-19 knocked on the University’s door. 

In the University’s mission statement, the school touts their commitment to “equity, leadership, integrity, openness, respect, and accountability.” But how much can be said about their visibly equitable advancements? When referring to men’s health care, there are more than enough brands to go around. There are several types of brands of condoms, ranging from different types that cater to safe sex needs. With the exception of dental dams, there are not enough feminine hygiene products aside from tampons, diva cups, and pads, that offer this variability for students who would use them at Hillside. According to Hallowitz, she has experienced this frustration more than once. 

“Sometimes, oftentimes, they don’t have them. In the past when I’ve tried to get some, they’re not there, they’re out of stock, [or] other times there’s one single brand of thin liners, which, for those who don’t know, is not enough for a menstrual flow,” she stated. 

The Market, the common store, is labeled a “convenience store” for all personal and general needs on the school website. As college students, it can prove frustrating to find that oftentimes this is not the case. Despite the fact that they restock on items regularly, there are times when the amount of hygiene products available quickly runs out. When they do have them, it is typically only a matter of time before they sell out. 

“I mean, either it’s something we usually have or it’s something that has been used, which can be upsetting. For the items we never have […] we tend to [make note of it]. If we see customers asking, we try to get them together. We try to get the stuff that people want,” first-year Ahmed Maisha, a Hillside worker, said. 

When asked about the number of times workers hear about missing items, Maisha smiled. 

“Yeah, a lot,” he laughed. 

A member of College Feminists had a similar dilemma, much like Hallowitz. The student-led society, which has recently protested for reproductive health care outside Rush Rhees, wanted to speak up. Sophomore Natasha Vacca, a vice chair for College Feminists, had agreed to speak for the organization. 

“I personally remember getting my pads from other stores my freshman year because Hillside never had enough,” said Vacca, “but I’m not sure if that has changed or not.” She went on to add another firm statement. “We as College Feminists agree there should be more access to feminine hygiene products though.” 

The matter of change is a gray area. Since Vacca’s last year, any differences in the stock flow has room for improvement. The single shelf facing the entrance, where items like diva cups, pads, or tampons reside, has limited room to house larger packaged items. Aside from the marketplace, there are a handful of bathrooms on campus that carry free pads or tampons. Regrettably, they do not always have enough for every single student’s needs. 

Some momentum from the late 2010s still lingers. In a recent interview with Amy McDonald, who directs the University Health Promotion Office, she highlighted noteworthy progress. Her associates, including Zoe Black, are currently researching and modeling after other schools that have done well. 

“I don’t know if it’s a policy, or something that we do, or you know, something, and I’m so far feeling good,” McDonald said. “So far, we have the support of Dr. Manchester, who is the director of UHS. 

Dr. Manchester, who made a statement about their current investigation, takes responsibility for all components of University Health Service. He oversees the funding for projects such as the ongoing investigation for menstrual accessibility. 

 “He was the one who said, ‘Yep, go ahead. Do some research. Get me a report to see what it would look like and I’ll send it to the provost.’ I’m also having Zoe look into menstrual cups, just in terms of a sustainability perspective,” McDonald added. 

 It may take a while though, according to Manchester. There is no official date for when a policy change will take effect — currently, Manchester notes all changes as being currently “under discussion.” 

Although the bathroom upkeep has made changes, the problem of healthcare access is still prevalent. 

“Even then, I’ve found it sometimes difficult to come by, because there will be moments where I’m like, ‘Okay, there are none in Hillside, but maybe in the bathrooms they will have something available, so I have a couple until the next time I go to CVS,’” said Hallowitz. “And then I’ll go to three different bathrooms, and they’re all out. But health products for all? I mean, it’s great that we have products made available in order to have safe sex — and it’s even better that there are many different varieties […] but like I said before, they’re not in stock enough,” she stated. 

 So — what kind of message does this send to students? 

 Putting the needs of safe sex first has a disproportionate effect on female hygiene across multiple levels. It shows where the University’s areas of weaknesses need to be addressed and ultimately improved. The addition of increased menstrual items would dissolve these problems at an efficient level. If there can be changes conducted to permit free dispensaries in other schools, then it can be regularly handled in our school. 

 “I would definitely say the kind of message it sends out is like where focus and priority lies,” Hallowitz said. “Which, don’t get me wrong, safe sex is very crucial, but it sends the message that the thought of, you know, menstrual hygiene is kind of like a second thought, if that makes sense.” 

 When asked if it was similar to an afterthought, Hallowitz nodded. 

 “Yeah, an afterthought.” 

Tagged: equity Hygiene

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