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New public menstrual dispensers launch

Amelia Davis / Thresher

By Kenzie Langhorne     2/13/24 10:06pm

The Menstrual Product Accessibility Program installed 36 public menstrual product dispensers in high-traffic areas on campus. Housing and Dining and Facilities and Capital Planning have worked together to stock at least 3,600 menstrual products in dispensers across campus. According to Fidel Gonzalez, the director of custodial services at Facilities Engineering and Planning, all products will be free of charge for the Rice community. 

The Student Association Student Health Services Commission worked with Rice’s Office of Public Affairs to create a Free Menstrual Products Layer on Rice University’s interactive campus map. The layer contains pins and a detailed description of the location of each free menstrual product dispenser, including building, floor and bathroom type.

Ammar Siddiqi, the director of the SA’s Student Health Services Commission, led the current quest to have dispensers installed on campus. He said the project began back in 2018, but due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the efforts toward installing the dispensers were lost.

“The Student Health Services commission started out by conducting a pilot survey by placing free menstrual product dispensers in restrooms across Rice to track usage [in 2018],” Siddiqi, a Hanszen College senior, wrote in an email to the Thresher. “They were then able to use the data they collected to develop a proposal to install the dispensers that prioritized high-traffic locations. Unfortunately, once they received funding in 2020 to bring this project to fruition, the pandemic began, which brought the project to a standstill.”

Melissa Geng, a member of the Menstrual Product Accessibility Program student association committee, said the committee worked last semester to push the initiative through because there was no streamlined process to access menstrual products.

“People were thinking that the ones [we had] before were not sufficient and were not refilled in time,” Geng, a McMurtry College freshman, said. “Sometimes they have to go to their Resident Associates and go to the drawers in their college’s communal bathrooms to find those.”

Geng said the committee emailed the brand Flow for the dispensers and met with students from other universities with established menstrual product accessibility systems.

Siddiqi said they have delegated the responsibility of restocking dispensers within academic and residential colleges to Rice staff.

“Facilities and Capital Planning will restock dispensers in academic buildings, whereas Housing and Dining will restock dispensers in residential colleges,” Siddiqi wrote. “We deliberately requested that they maintain the dispensers [rather than] a student organization because they are already responsible for the upkeep of restrooms, and students tend to be less reliable due to time constraints.”

Siddiqi said sustainability and longevity were significant concerns throughout the project due to low funding.

“We wanted to ensure that the dispensers would remain stocked to be of utility to students five, 10 and even 50 years down the road,” Siddiqi wrote. “After I submitted the proposal to the dean of undergraduates, we were allocated $9,000 for the purpose of purchasing the dispensers which was nearly half of what we requested. Fortunately, we were able to avert this issue by finding a cheaper manufacturer.”

Brown College junior Maya Adhikari said although she has not used the dispensers, the program as a whole is really important because it reduces period stigma while providing access to products.

“There is a lot of work being done to fight against sexism that takes on several different forms and one that has often been ignored is women’s health, especially in a post Roe v. Wade society,” Adhikari said. “It really works on fighting the stigma around women’s bodies.” 

Gonzales said he hopes the Menstrual Product Accessibility Program will continue to expand across campus.

“This time, several machines were installed and replaced, but not all of them,” Gonzales said. “I hope in the future this service can be provided in any single women’s restroom on campus.”

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