Free menstrual products are now available at Minnesota State.
The Women’s Center has aided in making this possible. BriShaun Kearns, a graduate student in Gender & Women’s Studies and staff member at the Women’s Center, explained the concept that brought this project to fruition.
“The reality is that half of the world’s population has a period. Like, statistically, it is super, super likely that at some point someone is going to be on campus and have their period,” Kearns said. “One of the problems that was noticed was that students were having difficulty accessing period products. So often, they weren’t able to afford it because often students aren’t working full-time jobs, aren’t making extra income, they often come from low-income backgrounds. And then the only access they have to an income is campus work, which often allows only like 20 hours a week. Sometimes you get caught off guard, and your period starts. And you don’t realize it was happening.”
In the past, there has been coin-operated access to menstrual products in women’s restrooms on campus.
“But how many of us carry coins on us?” Kearns said.
In 2021, student advocates approached Liz Steinborn-Gourley, director of the Women’s Center, to discuss the problem of lack of access to menstrual products. The Women’s Center worked with the Student Government to create a remedy. Both entities managed to successfully petition the university.
“There is also a legislation that says that there has to be access to menstrual products in educational public spaces. So that also means that high schools too have it, but that was something that wasn’t really happening here” Kearns said. “And it’s something that should be built into student fees. It’s something that now it is, and now it’s not an extra burden on students.”
The coin-operated systems now freely turn, allowing students to grab as many menstrual products as they need. Menstrual products are also available at the Women’s Center.
“We also have free, reusable menstrual products. We have menstrual cups. We’ll often talk to people if they have never used a cup before or reusable pads,” Kearns said. “Especially those who I’ve noticed have really, really heavy periods, this can be helpful because you aren’t spending so much money constantly on disposable pads. They also have reusable, period underwear.”
Having reusable menstrual products helps students who are concerned about expense or the effect on the environment. It means a lot for the Women’s Center to provide these products.
“The word I use to talk about this a lot is ‘period poverty.’ Like, effectively, if you do not have access to the period products, you are unable to continue to live a normal life and access school,” Kearns said. “So, that is a huge thing that I think of in terms of if you want students to come to school, if you want students to do well, and accomplish their goals, and finish, and graduate. You need to be able to set them up for their best, and this is one of those things.”
The Women’s Center uses a portion of its budget to provide the menstrual products. Various members of the Minnesota State community have also donated supplies. The feedback from students who take advantage of these products has been positive.
“Mostly just excitement and thank-yous. And we get a lot of positive feedback in terms of having products that students have never heard of,” Kearns said. “Some constructive feedback is having more consistent access.”
Kearns encouraged students that are interested in what the Women’s Center has to offer to check out CSU 218 or email email@example.com.
Header photo: The Women’s Center has free menstrual products outside of their office in the upper level of the Centennial Student Union in Minnesota State’s campus. (Lilly Anderson/The Reporter)
Write to Tracy Swartzendruber at firstname.lastname@example.org