Earlier this month, the Vassar Student Association (VSA) set into motion an initiative aimed at increasing student access to menstrual hygiene products on campus. The plan, which was initiated by members of the VSA’s Student Life Committee, involves a partnership between the VSA and the student org ProHealth to provide students on campus with free access to tampons.
Free condoms have long been offered at Vassar, but other personal health products like tampons are not as readily available. “Unlike condoms, tampons are a necessity for everyone who menstruates,” said Class of 2018 President Rebecca Pober, who is spearheading the initiative. “But Vassar doesn’t provide free access to tampons like it does for condoms, which doesn’t make sense. So when someone brought up in a committee meeting that we should bring free tampons to campus, everyone immediately jumped on the idea.”
Currently, few colleges and universities offer free feminine hygiene products on their campuses, and even fewer offer the products at more than one location. A number of free tampon initiatives at colleges across the country, including the University of Arizona, Columbia University and Barnard College, have not yet been successful, lacking traction in administration or student government. “Vassar would be one of the first of its kind to have an initiative like this if and when the initiative finally comes to fruition,” said VP for Student Life Chris Brown ’16. “We want to make sure there are resources available at any time of the day for anyone to use, as these products are essential to the health and well being of many students here. We don’t have it, and we should have it.”
Feminine hygiene products are both expensive and necessary, creating a conundrum that Vassar has the ability to rectify, but so far has not done. Brown explained, “So far, The VSA, and specifically Joshua Sherman [’16] from the SoCos, installed a vending machine in the College Center with tampons as a purchasing option. While this is an important step, it is not one that make tampons readily accessible for all students–including those of lower socioeconomic status, and those that are far away from Main Building, especially late in the evenings.”
Students and organizations have voiced overwhelming enthusiasm for the initiative and its long-awaited implementation. “In comparison to other issues regarding student physical and mental health, I feel as though there has been a relative absence of dialogue regarding menstruation at Vassar,” said Emily Bender ’17, a student who has advocated for free tampons on campus for several years. “And on a day-to-day basis, that’s okay, but not if it means that students experience an access barrier to needed hygiene products.”
Brown echoed these sentiments, and reiterated that the access barrier disproportionately affects those of different socioeconomic classes. “On Student Life Committee, we try and do what we can to make this school and this space more accessible and fair, especially for students who are structurally disadvantaged compared to others at this institution. That means trying to provide these students with what we believe to be basic necessities so as to help relieve a lot of the burden they already carry by being of lower socioeconomic class at a private institution where the wealthy are already at such a huge advantage.” While not all students may want or need to use the tampons provided by the Committee, providing an accessible product directly on campus, free of charge, can only be beneficial to the community as a whole.
Despite widespread support for the cause, however, the initiative is still in its infancy, and has already experienced some complications in its execution. “We’ve run into some difficulties finding a company that can provide good quality tampons to the college at subsidized prices,” Pober remarked. “We’re still in the process of finding a long-term solution for the plan. But right now, we’re ordering some tampons and pads in bulk for the rest of the semester, and seeing how we can distribute it.”
The VSA is currently planning on making the tampons and pads available during a trial period that will take place later in the semester. “The trial period is our way of testing how the distribution will run, and of locking down a one-time provider for the rest of the semester so we can buy some products and see what the response on campus is,” Brown said. “Ideally, in the future, we will partner with a long-term provider where we can buy in bulk on a yearly basis to make this initiative part of our structure.”
Despite these initial obstacles, Pober and Brown remained optimistic about the cause and voiced their enthusiasm for the future. “This initiative is important and needed,” Brown said. “There are still a lot of things to do, and it’s frustrating how long things can take sometimes, but all we can do is keep going.”