Student Government plans free menstrual product access on campus for spring

For its Period Project, Student Government partnered with Planned Parenthood Generation Action to include free menstrual products in restrooms across campus and informational pamphlets on period poverty. ANNIKA GORDON/UNSPLASH

The bins of menstrual products labeled with index cards titled “Take what you need, give what you can” in USF restrooms will soon be replaced by dispensers and baskets that won’t necessitate the latter part of the phrase.

As part of the Period Project, Student Government (SG) will install dispensers and baskets inside restrooms across the Tampa campus containing free menstrual products, including pads and tampons, to students, faculty and staff. Led by SG Assistant Director of Diversity and Wellness Alexis Roberson and Deputy Public Defender Jaida Abbas, the initiative is meant to make menstrual products more accessible to the USF community.

“This has been a passionate initiative of Student Government for a few administrations, but of course with combating COVID and everything with that, it’s been delayed,” said Roberson. “So finally, Jaida and I are partnering up to ensure that the students have this accessibility on campus.”

Dispensers and baskets will be installed inside restrooms at the Marshall Student Center, Cooper Hall, the USF Library, the Business Administration building, the Interdisciplinary Sciences building and the Social Sciences building in the spring semester. Around $14,000 has been designated for the project for the 2020-21 fiscal year, according to Abbas.

“The way we look at splitting our budget right now, I think, is we’re setting aside maybe like $5,000 for our dispensers just to get started,” said Abbas. “Which will leave us with $9,000 for products for the rest of the year to just replenish once we run out.”

Each of the six buildings will start off with at least one dispenser for each of its women’s restrooms, a basket for each men’s restroom and another for its non-gendered restrooms.

“We’ve been working hard to figure out what the most highly trafficked areas are on campus just so that we’re maximizing the efficiency of our reach,” said Abbas.

With around 7,000 tampons and 3,000 pads already gathered for the project from previous SG administrations, Roberson and Abbas are working to find sustainable means of distribution of those products that can eventually be taken over by the corresponding building’s facility management.

“We’d like to create a memorandum of agreement with building facility managers so that down the line students are not responsible for filling these dispensers and baskets, but that building facility managers will take on some of that burden, and Student Government will only be responsible for providing the actual products,” said Abbas.

Since SG has already amassed many products, Abbas said new supplies won’t be purchased until the ones in stock run out. Currently, the focus is on ordering and installing dispensers in restrooms over winter break for the spring semester.

Once dispensers and baskets are installed and ready for use, they’ll be accompanied by an educational pamphlet developed largely by the USF Tampa chapter of Planned Parenthood Generation Action. 

The pamphlet will provide information on period poverty — the issue around the lack of access to safe, hygienic period products — on both international and local levels.  

“In order to get some data to be used on the educational pamphlets … we created a survey which is going to ask a variety of questions like ‘How much do people spend per year on their products?’” said President of Planned Parenthood Generation Action Ellie Levesque. “Or if anyone has specifically dealt with period poverty and not being able to access or afford products.”

SG reached out to Levesque partly because it had already begun its own campaign for menstrual product accessibility in spring 2020. The campaign garnered around 500 products through its menstrual product drives, which will contribute to the Period Project’s supply distribution in the spring. 

Developing partnerships with USF’s student organizations is something that SG is always looking out for, according to Roberson. 

SG’s collaboration with Planned Parenthood Generation Action formed this year when Abbas discovered a petition stating that free menstrual products should be provided in all of USF’s restrooms, instead of just through Student Health Services.

“I was truly excited when Jaida ran upon the petition because I was like ‘This is great,’” said Roberson. “I mean this is something that they’re passionate about and let’s utilize … our strengths and make a strong relationship.”

Roberson is also planning ahead for how to best maintain menstrual product availability once the project takes off, specifically with the costs of buying these products in bulk in the future.

“As we get more established and we have that data proof of ‘This is beneficial to our students for this reason,’ we definitely are interested in creating [an] outside vendor partnership with someone,” said Roberson. 

Abbas also hopes to eventually lay out a wider variety of menstrual products for students to choose from, including products of different materials and sizes. 

“We want you to feel comfortable with the product that you’re putting in your body and we still want that to be provided to you,” said Abbas. “It’s not a luxury, it’s a necessity.”

Between the products, pamphlets, Planned Parenthood Generation Action and SG, Levesque said the initiative is both about trying to ease the burden of costs associated around periods while educating the community about it. 

“We just want to be able to say ‘Hey this is a basic necessity that many people need,’” said Levesque. “More than half of the student body needs it, and of course a lot of faculty members need them too. So it’s something that should be free.”