Starting next week, the Association of Amherst Students (AAS) will begin piloting an initiative that provides free menstrual products to women’s and gender-neutral restrooms in Frost Library, in partnership with the Reproductive Justice Alliance (RJA) and the Student Health Educators (SHEs). A basket of miscellaneous menstrual products — including tampons and pads, among other things — will be placed in each of the restrooms and refilled twice a week by the SHEs.
This program, which comes as part of an effort to make sanitary products more readily accessible across campus, was initially devised by the RJA last semester. According to Silvia Sotolongo ’19, president of the AAS and member of the RJA, the proposal was brought forward for funding by the AAS in late November of last year. It was approved for implementation this semester.
“This was a noted need. The RJA was discussing it,” the SHEs were discussing it. And considering that it was at a time that the Budgetary Committee was thinking about expanding services, it was the perfect opportunity to think about a pilot program,” said Paul Gallegos, director of student activities. “It feels like a conversation that’s been months in the making.”
As a pilot project, the organizers are looking at ways to test its effectiveness and expand its scope as time goes on. In an online interview, Sotolongo expressed hope that students would readily use these products and that they could “expand [this initiative] to other academic and administrative buildings like the Science Center, Keefe Campus Center and Valentine Dining Hall.”
“One idea that has been floated around is to expand the program to dorms, much like the condom distribution that [resident counselors] do for each floor,” Sotolongo added. “We haven’t discussed the feasibility or cost associated with that explicitly, as that would likely supplement a majority of people’s needs for menstrual products rather than serve as an emergency stash or supplement.”
Amanda Vann, director of health education, views this move as an important step for health and accessibility on campus. “We’re recognizing that students who menstruate have an additional cost associated with that, that students who don’t menstruate don’t have,” said Vann. “I was so excited that AAS recognized that discrepancy and wanted to do something to support our students who might be struggling to pay for something that they need.”
Gallegos agreed with this sentiment. “I think, if anything, this goes to show what good collaboration and understanding what needs there are in the student body can do, and how the student government can help facilitate that,” he said. “This is a good example of working with different student groups on campus to voice opportunities to expand services on campus.”
The program only represents one of several initiatives to expand accessibility of health products currently in the works. “We’re also looking at stocking a healthcare vending machine that will provide some of these free things, like the menstrual products that we’re already going to be providing in Frost, as well as things like condoms, dental dams, lube, cold-care kits, as well as some other related items to students who need them,” said Vann. “Some of them will be at a reduced cost, and some of them will be free, for students to be able to access those resources as well.”