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Gorman approves funding for free menstrual products in bathrooms

Channing Wang/Thresher

By Alina Zhu     2/25/20 11:46pm

Dean of Undergraduates Bridget Gorman approved university funding for the installation of dispensers of free pads and tampons in residential college bathrooms and major academic buildings on Feb. 20. 

The funding will be directed to Housing  and Dining and Facilities Engineering and Planning to buy dispensers for two bathrooms in each building, as well as to refill menstrual products as needed. Dispensers will be placed in all residential colleges, Humanities Building, Herzstein Hall, Sewall Hall, Rayzor Hall, Anderson Biological Laboratories, Herring Hall and Duncan Hall, in two bathrooms per building determined to be highest-traffic.

This decision was the result of a two-year-long effort by members of the Student Health Services Office in collaboration with Jones College sophomore Krithika Shamanna, according to Rodrigo Gonzales-Rojas, one of the co-chairs for the SA’s Student Health Services Accessibility Committee and leaders of the funding initiative.

Following a meeting with Gonzales-Rojas, fellow co-chair Aaron Pathak and Shamanna, Gorman agreed that this funding was necessary to increase equity at Rice.

“If some of our students are having difficulty being able to afford these products and it’s interfering with their schoolwork and their social life and their ability to function and thrive on campus, I don’t want something like this to be getting in the way of that,” Gorman said. “So for those reasons alone, I’m happy to support it.” 

Shamanna described how upon coming to Rice, she had immediately noticed a need to provide students at Rice with better access to menstrual products. 

“When I came to Rice as a freshman, I expected college to be different [from my high school] and for menstrual products to be more accessible everywhere … but it’s still kind of hard to get access,” she said. “During [Orientation Week] I talked to the Jones president … I used some of [our college’s fund] and bought tampons and pads and I put them in the bathrooms at Jones.”

Shamanna’s passion for menstrual equity also led her to write a satirical opinion piece for the Thresher last October, where she compared the need for menstrual products to the need for  free toilet paper.

“We see toilet paper as super necessary, which is why none of us carry around rolls of toilet paper whenever we go to the bathroom,” she said. “Menstrual products should be the same thing because the reasoning for providing toilet paper is that it’s necessary for a biological need.”

Other women at Rice shared similar sentiments regarding accessing menstrual products on campus.

According to Jasmine Lee, a Brown College sophomore, although there are some resources at Rice that provide free menstrual products, they are currently not widely available. 

“Buying tampons or pads is so expensive, and the Rice Women’s Resource Center is great but the [Rice Memorial Center] is not the most accessible location for some colleges,” Lee said. “I [am] constantly having to spend money on high-priced, taxed menstrual products and … living on campus without a car makes it difficult to get access to buying menstrual products. It’s been a major hindrance to both my budget and also my time to not have easy, cheaper access.”

Shamanna said a lack of available menstrual products can sometimes pose a barrier to education. 

“In one of my classes, one of my friends was like, ‘Do you have a tampon?’ [But] I didn’t have one with me,” Shamanna said. “[She] had to go back to [her] dorm and missed the first half of class. It was a huge time constraint too because [she had] to go all the way back to like her room and get it and come back. It took like 30 minutes and it was a 50-minute class.”

Bharathi Selvan (Hanszen College ’19), the previous co-chair of the SA’s Student Health Services Accessibility Committee, was the founder of the initial project to provide more widespread accessibility for free menstrual products at Rice. Selvan worked with her fellow co-chair Hannah Kim, a senior at Brown, and Dr. Jessica McKelvey (Will Rice College ’93), director of Student Health, to create a pilot program and gather data on the demand on campus for menstrual products. 

“[Members of our committee] took turns tracking how many people use the tampons and pads in those locations,” Selvan said. “We did that for about a month [and] the data definitely demonstrated a need for menstruation products on campus, especially in buildings where people take classes.”

Shamanna also discussed the importance of being gender-inclusive, and not putting menstrual dispensers in bathrooms for women alone.

“[Menstruation] is definitely seen as only an issue that affects women,” she said. “[The idea that] everyone can menstruate regardless of what gender they identify with … has been a particular part of the conversation [on menstruation that] people have not been fully aware of.”

Gorman said she was happy to see the increasing engagement and discourse surrounding menstruation and the actions students at Rice are taking towards achieving menstrual equity. 

“It always really pleases me when I see students come together and work on something they feel is going to make the Rice experience more equitable for everyone,” she said. “We’re seeing [the discussion of menstruation] become more mainstream. I think it means that [individuals who menstruate] are in a position to be able to talk more openly about their bodies in a way maybe we haven’t previously seen.”

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