Photo and story by Andrew Wigdor / News Editor
MTSU Generation Action, an affiliate organization of Planned Parenthood, has launched a campaign entitled “Project Accessibility, Period” to make menstrual products more accessible on MTSU’s campus.
The initial idea behind the campaign was formed when MTSU student and Generation Action President Tess Shelton began a research project regarding menstrual product accessibility for a class in 2017.
“I lived on campus for two years, and I had noticed that it was difficult to get menstrual products, which inspired me to work on a project for one of my classes,” Shelton said. “And our findings were absolutely abysmal.”
Joy Lewis, an MTSU alumna who graduated in May 2017, assisted in the research project but noticed the issue long before then.
“For my first two years of going to MTSU, I lived on campus and didn’t have a car,” Lewis said. “My period products, when I needed them, came from stores on campus. It was very apparent to me very soon that it was a problem. When I was a senior, I finally got the chance to do some serious, hands-on research with Tess. That’s when we were able to put data and numbers to how big of a problem this was.”
Shelton and Lewis recorded the prices and variety of menstrual products from all of the campus stores, known as P.O.D.s, the availability of menstrual products in areas such as public bathrooms and the menstrual product availability at the MTSU Student Food Pantry.
“We compared the per-unit prices (of menstrual products on campus) with the per-unit prices at Target and Walmart, and we found that there was a significant difference,” Shelton said.
Shelton and Lewis surveyed 15 buildings on MTSU’s campus and found that 100 percent of the 19 all-gender or women’s bathrooms within those buildings contained menstrual product disposal units. However, none of those bathrooms contained pad or tampon dispenser machines. Their report also states that, in Peck Hall alone, there are 16 snack and soda machines, but there is not a single menstrual product vending machine. Another issue that their research raised is the fact that certain stores on campus have more options and higher prices than others. The Peck Hall P.O.D., for example, offers just two varieties of menstrual products, panty liners and regular-flow tampons. Additionally, the price per unit of panty liners in that store is 20 cents, which is twice the price per unit for that product at the other campus stores and approximately four times the retail price at stores such as Target.
Many of the areas on campus are “menstrual product deserts,” meaning that there are little to no options for menstrual product accessibility in large sections of campus. Therefore, according to Shelton and Lewis, stores that have less competition than other stores on campus jack up prices. Two of the stores that Shelton and Lewis say fit this description are the Peck Hall P.O.D. and the P.O.D. in the Cyber Cafe. The Peck Hall store is in an area where, geographically, there is little competition from other stores. Alternatively, the Cyber Cafe is the only store that is open from 6 p.m. until 2 a.m. on all days of the week. Therefore, these hours make it the only store on campus open at all on Sundays, after 11 p.m. on weekdays, after 6 p.m. on Fridays and one of two stores open on Saturdays, according to Shelton and Lewis’ report. Due to this, Shelton and Lewis said, the Cafe only offers two menstrual products, Always Panty Liners and Tampax Regular Tampons, which only cover two out of the three common categories for blood flow during menstruation. Furthermore, the Cafe has one of the highest prices per unit for regular-flow tampons at 75 cents per tampon.
Shelton and Lewis’ report also shows that the MTSU Student Food Pantry offers free menstrual products but does not advertise the products on their fliers as they do for food and other goods. Additionally, the menstrual products are kept behind closed doors, making them invisible to students who may not know to ask for them.
The new campaign’s demands for more accessible campus products include the installment of a menstrual product dispenser in at least one female bathroom and one gender-neutral bathroom per building, the regular refilling of said dispensers, the requirement that all campus stores that sell menstrual products also sell pads and the requirement that the pantry advertises the menstrual products they have available. To meet these demands, Shelton will be speaking with the MTSU Student Government Association, campus sorority members, the June Anderson Center for Women and Nontraditional Students and MTSU administrative staff. She hopes to convince all of these entities that the need for menstrual product accessibility is a real issue.
“I’m not really nervous about contacting administration about this issue because I’ve been aware of this issue for about a year,” Shelton said. “And I’m just pissed off enough not to be nervous.”
Despite acknowledging that some students may not be aware that the menstrual product accessibility is an issue, Shelton said that the initial response to the announcement of the campaign has been incredibly supportive.
“I’ve reached out to a lot of people about this in the last couple weeks, and the responses that I’ve received have been overwhelmingly positive,” Shelton said. “I think there’s a recognition, especially among women who have periods, that this has been a problem. I’ve spoken to a lot of women who have reported that they have been late to class or had to miss a class because they couldn’t find pads or tampons on time.”
Lewis stated that many of the people who don’t see the issue as urgent are victims of complacency.
“If we do encounter problems with people not recognizing the issue, I think it may stem from accepting this as the norm,” Lewis said. “Menstruating students on this campus accept this as the norm and say, ‘Well, this is the hardship that we have to go through.'”
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