Free menstrual products are slowly becoming available in every bathroom in the Wilkinson Student Center, following a research project by BYUSA that explored the importance and viability of providing said products.
The BYUSA Student Advisory Council (SAC), which led the efforts, met January 2021 to research the effect of free feminine hygiene products in schools. Sam Nielson, one of the first students to work on the project, said the council chose this as their subject after interviewing students about women’s representation.
“We realized this was a need that had been overlooked, and we had the platform to address it,” Nielson said.
Student Advisory Council member Hannah Weber said the group found that providing these services would represent a minimal cost for BYU. Additionally, they would enable menstruating students and faculty to be more comfortable on campus, saving them an absence from class or a run home.
At first, Nielsen said, he didn’t understand why free menstrual products would be important. “As a guy, the need for available period products literally never crossed my mind,” he said. After interviewing students and researching the costs and benefits of the project, he said he now feels they’re necessary for students to have peace of mind.
“I was shocked at how many women shared stories about having their period during classes, exams or interviews, and had difficulty accessing the products they needed,” Nielsen said.
During their research, the council met with BYU Building Care staff and learned that BYU actually loses money on the period products they charge for. The products are kept in coin-operated machines, which need to be serviced regularly. According to Weber, the cost of servicing the machines was greater than the earnings from the machines.
Weber and fellow council members surveyed the student body and found that few students on campus carry coins with them, rendering the coin-operated machines practically useless, Weber said. Additionally, there are several women’s bathrooms on campus that do not have these machines at all.
“No one can even use this service that BYU was trying to provide to its students,” Weber said.
The SAC team also met with faculty at the Women’s Services and Resources (WSR) center to discuss the benefits of making period products just as accessible as other bathroom resources, like toilet paper and paper towels.
Dixie Sevison, director of the WSR, said she believes it is important for schools to offer free period products.
“If lack of feminine hygiene products is keeping any girl or woman from attending school, work, or anything else they want to do, something needs to be done,” she said. “These young women deserve equal access to education.”
According to the website for The Policy Project, 86% of women have unexpectedly started their period in public and found themselves without the supplies they need. Brooke Gledhill Wood, Director of Programs & Legal for The Policy Project, says it is not uncommon for people to be unable to afford period products, an experience known as “period poverty.”
“For a student, period poverty might look like deciding between purchasing several meals or a box of tampons each month,” Wood said.
Students who do not have the proper supplies to manage their periods face a barrier to their education, according to Wood.
“Students experiencing period poverty are more likely to be late to class, leave class early or miss class altogether,” she said. “Providing free period products in school bathrooms is a crucial step to keep women experiencing period poverty in class and fully engaged in the learning process.”
Nielson also learned in his interviews that even those who can afford menstrual products simply don’t carry them around 24/7.
“Some critics say that women should be prepared at all times with their own period products, but that’s such an unrealistic solution,” Nielson said. “Some women’s pants don’t even have pockets.”
In April 2021, the council presented their findings to President Worthen and a several other academic leaders and deans.
“The administration really liked our presentation. They liked our ideas,” Weber said. “We just gave it to them and hoped and prayed. We had a ton of people backing us.”
Following the presentation, the administration began a trial run. They installed machines with free menstrual products in two bathrooms in the WSC: room 2624, by the Jamba Juice, and room 3364, on the third floor right above it. Students responded positively, and Sevinson reports that the machines are now in five WSC bathrooms.
Weber has already seen the machines make a positive impact. She even shared a success story in which the free products saved a friend while she was taking the LSAT.
While the WSR and BYUSA have successfully made these products available in the WSC, they do not have control over other bathrooms on campus. Some bathrooms have baskets of free products, but most stick to the old coin-operated machines.
“This is not something WSR or BYUSA has control over,” Sevinson said. “Both organizations, and probably others, have made the need for free product in buildings known.”
As these people and organizations continue to build support for access to period products, students might see those products in more buildings across campus.
“Getting free feminine hygiene product machines on campus was not just the work of one person,” Sevison said. “Many people and organizations on campus have worked to make this a reality.”
Hannah Weber echoed Sevison’s sentiments and expressed gratitude for the leaders who have put this plan into action.
“I’m super grateful for the BYU administration, that they listen to their students and listen to their women,” Weber said. “I felt so respected and so heard, and clearly BYU realized that this is a need that women have.”