Free menstrual products now available in UB bathrooms

Pilot program provides free products in 20 bathrooms across three campuses

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Free menstrual products are now available in 20 bathrooms, seven in the Student Union and 13 other gender-neutral bathrooms, across UB’s three campuses, as of June 1.

Sharon Nolan-Weiss, the director of the Office of Equity, Diversity and Inclusion, led a subgroup along with the Student Association 2018-19 executive board to start the pilot program. The goal of the program is to measure how often students use the products. Menstrual product company Aunt Flow provided the products, and funds for the product came from SA and the Office of Inclusive Excellence. UB is modeling the program after the University at Washington, one of the first universities to implement a free menstrual product program.

“The goal is to have the products always available in dispensaries people can access at any time,” Nolan-Weiss said. “We want to start small, gauge usage and eventually expand it.”

Nolan-Weiss said men historically made decisions on women’s bathroom needs and often didn’t think of making menstrual products available for free like other toiletries.

“Everyone walks into a restroom and expects to have toilet paper, soap and paper towels,” Nolan-Weiss said. “It makes sense to pay attention to women-specific bathroom needs too.”

Aside from the Student Union, the menstrual products –– which include organic tampons and pads –– are available in some gender-neutral bathrooms in O’Brian Hall, Furnas Hall and Baldy Hall on North Campus as well as Sherman Hall and Diefendorf Hall on South Campus.

Allison Rusinski, a senior political science major, said she doesn’t think the program is necessary, but still feels it is “valuable” and “worthwhile.”

“I think the pilot program is finally a step in the right direction to give more respect and dignity toward women, especially in today’s society,” Rusinski said.

The subgroup who started the program, led by Nolan-Weiss, was comprised of Despina Stratigakos, the vice provost for the Office of Inclusive Excellence, Chris Donacik, the assistant director of facilities operations and Lisa Mclaughlin, the delivery service coordinator of University Libraries.

Each dispenser features a phone number students can call if the products need to be replenished.

The only problem Nolan-Weiss currently foresees is replacing the product because administrators are relying heavily on students taking only what they need. She said UB has a “good community” and believes students will be respectful. 

There is typically an influx in the first three months the free menstrual products are offered, according to Aunt Flow’s website. But after people realize the products will always be available if they need it, the influx dies down.

Rusinski said she hopes her peers will approach the program with gratefulness and not misuse the products.

“Over-usage will always be a concern, but I have faith in people on this campus that they won’t ruin this for everyone,” Rusinski said.

Rusinski said, along with the Student Union, she would like to see the products in “largely populated” halls such as Knox Hall and the Natural Sciences Complex.

Paige Burkard, a graduate public health student, said it can be “stressful” to run into that time of the month and not have any menstrual products with her.

“I will definitely make use of the free products,” Burkard said. “I’m often someone who doesn’t have enough menstrual products on me and don’t want to ask someone else.”

Brittany Gorny is the senior news editor and can be reached at brittany.gorny@ubspectrum.com and on Twitter @BrittanyUBSpec.