The Old Bookstore in Main Building has a new addition to health care products available to students. Located in the back of the room there is now VSafe: a vending machine stocked with reproductive health and general wellness supplies. Students can tap their student IDs to access up to three items from the vending machine every 24 hours. These items range from fentanyl test strips to Plan B.
While Vassar drew inspiration from examples of vending machines with sexual and menstrual health products at other schools, such as Bard College, the most exciting innovation of VSafe is the accessibility of Plan B. Vice President of Vassar Voices for Planned Parenthood (VVPP), Giovanni Verdi ’25, stated, “We provide Plan B [at no cost] in there, which has never been done at a college before. We’re lucky enough that we got grants and supplies of Plan B [from the Health Services Office], so they were able to stock that in our vending machine.”
The idea for VSafe first began in Spring 2022 when then-President of VVPP Hannah Oppenheim ’23 was participating in calls with other Planned Parenthood Generation Action chapter leaders. VVPP serves as part of the Planned Parenthood Generation Action movement, which has over 350 campus groups across the country. The group seeks to increase awareness of reproductive health and rights and advocate for reproductive justice. VVPP achieves these goals on Vassar’s campus through education and the provision of access to reproductive and gender affirming care. While communicating with other campus leaders, Oppenheim learned how campus chapters implemented affordable vending machines stocked with essential reproductive and sexual health supplies. Oppenheim reached out to the director of Health Promotion and Education (HPE), Andrea Pesavento, in order to discuss bringing a similar vending machine to Vassar.
“It [was] important to me because I advocate for expanded health options for students on campus, and I know a lot of people want accessible Plan B in particular, which was what I was really excited about,” said Oppenheim. In joining forces with HPE, the concept for VSafe expanded beyond sexual health like condoms, moving to include items such as medicine and face masks. Oppenheim explained, “We wanted to give students more options so that when they are sick or in need of sexual wellness options, they don’t have to either buy [supplies] themselves or make an appointment with Baldwin, which comes with its own challenges with anonymity and resources.”
Pesavento similarly affirmed the significance of VSafe, saying, “The vision of VSafe is to promote harm reduction techniques and provide QR codes for additional education for students to make informed decisions about their health. Through the information provided, students can then self-schedule appointments with the Health Service for questions or assistance.” She stated that it has taken about two years to get this initiative fully up and running: a feat that required HPE to collaborate with multiple partners on campus such as Health Service, Campus Activities, CIS, Facilities, Purchasing and the Vassar Student Association (VSA). HPE also worked alongside the executive boards of student organizations such VVPP, CHOICE, Project Period and Students for Sensible Drug Policy (SSDP). This collaboration offers an inspiring perspective on the potential that lies in student and administrative cooperation, with Pesavento explaining, “When students and administrators are united by a shared vision that is based on mutual respect, understanding and trust, ideas can become a reality.”
Last year, VVPP and HPE began discussing implementing VSafe with administrators. Oppenheim stated, “It was a lot of logistics-based meetings—where was the vending machine coming from, how were we going to get the products, what sort of products were going to be implemented?” The team also worked with members of Baldwin’s Health Services, such as the Health Specialist/Certified Medical Assistant Jennifer Lynn Ortiz and Director of Student Health Services Margot Schinella. “It took a while, but we got it done,” Oppenheim said.
VVPP worked alongside other groups, such as the former student organization CHOICE and the VSA, to lease out a vending machine. Over the summer of 2023, they filled VSafe with products and set it up in the Old Bookstore.
Current VVPP President Maggie Rudbach ’24 explained the importance of what VSafe represents on campus, saying, “It takes down the barriers that there are to supplies… Plan B usually costs $50, and I think that’s a price that most students can’t afford. And it definitely separates class, so it disproportionately affects a certain demographic of the student body.”
Additionally, VSafe helps to educate students on their health options by providing adequate paperwork and information for resources such as Plan B. Through this, students can determine which steps are the most beneficial to themselves and their health. “Whereas normally someone in Baldwin would help you determine that, we provide the anonymity but still have the opportunity to know if it’s safe or right for you,” Verdi stated. “This is helping you to have multiple points of access or support, so you can get it through the HPE office’s resources but also, if you want to be more independent about it, you can go down there and stock up on what you need.”
So far, VSafe has seen a noteworthy amount of use. In addition to his role as Vice President, Verdi also works with VSA Services, which restocks the vending machine at multiple points during the week. He explained that Plan B has been the most accessed resource so far, with it being restocked multiple times a week.
Students have been excited and surprised by the prospect of typically inaccessible products being available at their fingertips. “I remember at an event we had some students find out that there’s free Plan B. And they were like, ‘This is crazy,’” Rudbach said. “Because it does seem a little crazy. Plan B is so expensive and the fact that it’s provided for free three times a day is such a cool opportunity.”
As the VSafe initiative continues, students and administrators working on the vending machine plan to keep tabs on which items are being accessed frequently. The roster of provided items will continue to update as needed, with less used items being phased out and highly requested ones being put in. The College’s goal is to eventually install more vending machines in other locations around campus.