The Student News Site of Stony Brook University

The Statesman

77° Stony Brook, NY
The Student News Site of Stony Brook University

The Statesman

The Student News Site of Stony Brook University

The Statesman

Newsletter

Equal access, higher grades

At the age of 18, I have experienced more than 75 menstrual cycles, each of which has required hygiene products. Attempting to count how many products I’ve used would be absurd. It is an understatement to say that I have easily spent hundreds of dollars on managing this natural process of my body. The high cost of hygiene products does not equate to the necessity of their usage, especially for college students.

The monthly financial burden placed on college students cannot be overstated. Research shows that out of 1.8 billion monthly menstruators, only 500 million have access to period products. Even worse, one in 10 college students can’t afford to buy period products. 

It’s not unusual for students to have to make difficult financial decisions. Do they purchase tampons or textbooks? Pads or groceries? This financial burden can cause a sense of deprivation, pushing students to make compromises in other aspects of their lives. 

These compromises can thus affect their general well-being and quality of life. To safeguard the health and dignity of menstruators, colleges need to provide free menstruation products in their restrooms. This initiative would be a vital and urgent measure to promote gender equality and decisively address a pervasive barrier to education.

As periods pertain to women’s health, this is a barrier that’s exclusive to one sex. Men don’t have to worry about debilitating cramps or bleeding through their undergarments — making the lack of feminine hygiene products on campus a lack of menstrual equity. This disparity falls under the category of gender-based discrimination due to the lack of accountability on the school’s behalf.

As essential as they are, menstrual products come at a high cost, especially for college students. For some students who don’t have external financial support, the struggle is immense — leading to negative impacts on their well-being and academic performance. 

As of January 2021, the average cost of menstruation products was $20 each cycle. This amounted to an estimated $200 to $300 each year, or thousands of dollars over a lifetime. Providing free menstruation products within educational institutions is not only a compassionate gesture but a necessary step towards academic equality.

While every student faces their own challenges, allowing a natural body process to hinder academic performance is unjustifiable. When the concern over how to afford pads or tampons increases, students’ academic concentration decreases. Period poverty has a clear negative impact on academic performance because kids who face this difficulty frequently miss school, resulting in worse grades and fewer educational chances. 43% of female university students worldwide reported missing school due to menstruation

A data table made by Statista, USA provides statistics on female academics vs. period poverty:  Elflein, John. “Negative impact of period poverty on schooling U.S. 2021.” Statista, 15 June 2021, https://www.statista.com/statistics/1243035/negative-impact-of-period-poverty-on-schooling/.

Having just one student struggling to excel in academics because of a lack of products, or having to walk out of class embarrassed, is one too many. “[It was a] stalker … No matter where I went, it felt like it [period poverty] followed me around,” Stony Brook University freshman student Dinah Patel, a marine science major, said in an interview. Stressed with upcoming exams and deadlines, she couldn’t spare the funds for menstrual products on a monthly basis. Patel admitted that she missed several classes due to the discomfort and fear of bleeding through clothing. The ordeal took a toll on her mental health and academic performance.

One of the barriers to ongoing free menstrual product initiatives are the concerns surrounding expenses and taxation. These concerns should not be dismissed lightly, so a balanced approach is necessary. Some might argue that implementing a nationwide program to distribute these items could have financial ramifications, potentially affecting taxpayers and disrupting the commercial market. 

Exploring public-private partnerships with menstrual product manufacturers is one solution to address these financial aspects. The taxation of menstrual products has been identified as unfair, imposing economic burden on people who menstruate based simply on a biological difference, according to The National Center for Biotechnology Information

Stony Brook’s proactive Menstrual Health Project (MHP) exemplifies effective policies for addressing period poverty on campuses, working with Aunt Flow to promote period equity. Aunt Flow is a company devoted to providing free menstrual care to companies, schools and public spaces. While talking with Devin Lobosco, president of the Undergraduate Student Government (USG), he emphasized the core principle. 

“Free access to products for all students, regardless of whether they are experiencing period poverty,” Lobosco said.

MHP is committed to the belief that menstrual products are a right for all, not a privilege. The initiative’s partnership with Aunt Flow demonstrates the importance of selecting the right partners. Initially funded through a small USG grant, the pilot dispenser program’s success and ongoing user support led to a $10,000 annual budget from the USG Senate.

Lobosco’s insights highlight the importance of securing long-term funding and University support — particularly as the MHP program is sustained by student fees. This underscores the need for universities to recognize menstrual products as a right and allocate appropriate resources.

Implementation did not come without challenges. Lobosco described how “convincing the University of the program’s validity and longevity” was one of the largest challenges. To address this, Stony Brook secured multi-year funding and created a long-term maintenance plan. 

The pilot was launched with a feedback form that gathered information on its effectiveness and helped ease the skepticism that surrounded it. MHP provides a blueprint for universities looking to implement their own initiatives. 

Shenice Jennings, a chemistry major and junior at Stony Brook, got her period while attending class in a lecture hall; in the moment, she felt a sudden rush of anxiety. 

“The nearest restroom was a considerable distance away,” Jennings said. “I was utterly scared and irritated at myself. I somehow managed to make it to the bathroom ready to cry when I realized there was a dispenser with pads and tampons.”

Jennings had no menstrual products in her bag. This left her with no choice but to sit through the entire lecture while constantly distracted by the fear of an embarrassing situation. However, available period products lessened her anxiety and allowed her to refocus on the lecture.

Despite challenges and opposition by those who chose not to educate themselves on period poverty, Stony Brook’s commitment to equity and inclusivity has led to the successful implementation of this initiative. It makes you wonder if one university could take this proactive approach, why can’t all? 

This issue transcends menstruation; it is about breaking down a pervasive barrier to educational access, promoting gender equality and fostering a more equitable society. Together, as changemakers, we can show that this is not just a women’s issue, but a people’s crisis. By ensuring free access to menstrual products in colleges, we pave the way for a future where every student can reach their full potential, unimpeded by financial constraints. If we respond to this ringing call to action in the cause of academic equity, we all will see equal access and higher grades.

View Comments (2)
Donate to The Statesman

Your donation will support the student journalists of Stony Brook University. Your contribution will allow us to purchase equipment and cover our annual website hosting costs.

More to Discover
Donate to The Statesman

Comments (2)

All The Statesman Picks Reader Picks Sort: Newest

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

  • E

    ElizabethMay 12, 2024 at 10:54 pm

    Great idea of connecting period poverty and grades.

    Elizabeth Simon

    Reply
  • A

    Amber KMay 11, 2024 at 10:08 am

    Such a good read! Love your passion HT!

    Reply