RUSA proposes free menstrual hygiene program on campus
During the full body meeting of the Rutgers University Student Assembly (RUSA) last Thursday, members presented a preliminary proposal to pilot a free menstrual hygiene program on campus for students struggling with financial insecurity.
The average price of a tampon is about 19 cents outside the University, but on campus, the average cost rises as high as 38 cents, according to statistics compiled by the assembly.
“(This) is something that students have been asking us to work on for over a little over a year now,” said Evan Covello, RUSA president and an Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy senior.
The proposal, which outlined RUSA’s research and future steps for action, was presented to the assembly by Sabeen Rokerya, chairwoman of the Student Affairs Committee and a School of Environmental and Biological Sciences junior, and Sara Bailey, the Douglass at-large representative and School of Arts and Sciences junior.
Rokerya and Bailey prefaced their presentation by emphasizing that RUSA is treating menstrual hygiene products as necessities, not as luxury items.
“We have an insecurity problem that we need to deal with,” Rokerya said. “We equate it to the necessity of food and other things that students need to go about their day ... within the educational system.”
For nearly a year, RUSA has been in the preparatory stages of developing a program to address the lack of accessibility to menstrual hygiene products for students who need them, in terms of financial insecurity, but also in emergency situations when a student is unprepared.
This has entailed researching and consulting other Big Ten schools who have created similar programs and communicating with the University Facilities & Capital Planning office (UFCP) and other University organizations, including the Women’s Center Coalition, which Bailey represents, the Douglass Governing Council and the Douglass Friends of UNFPA.
Of the 14 Big Ten schools, nine of them have either already implemented, or are in the process of implementing a free menstrual hygiene product program, Rokerya said.
“More than half of our population is affected by this, so it should be a conversation that Rutgers is having,” Bailey said.
Rokerya said the main issue is an accessibility problem. Since the dispensers in women’s bathrooms across campus are often broken and unstocked, in a pinch students would have to go to convenience stores on campus.
“The prices are jacked up,” Rokerya said. “Almost two times the price you can find at a Walmart or Target.”
Although the University no longer stocks the dispensers in bathrooms, Bailey said they already possess a number of menstrual hygiene products in a warehouse.
In speaking with the College Avenue Student Center Director Michelle Smith, RUSA learned that students can already access such products for free at the College Avenue Student Center, Bailey said.
After being approached by students needing menstrual hygiene products, Smith contacted the UFCP who shipped her a box of products. These products are currently available to students and kept in the Operations Office, she said.
Menstrual hygiene products are also currently available at the Rutgers Student Food Pantry, which is run by the Office of Off-Campus Living and Community Partnerships.
As the pilot program, RUSA plans to expand this system to all student centers.
The goal is to have all of the student center staff in the Operations Offices of every campus to be fully aware of the program and be fully stocked with products, Rokerya said.
“If a student needs a product, they can go to the main Operations office of, let’s say, the Cook Campus Center, ask any of the staff members wearing a red polo if they can have a pad or a tampon,” she said. “All of the staff members should know where they are, and they can just give it to them in a private situation.”
The pilot program, upon approval from the UFCP, would entail the provision of the products within the student centers, which is expected to begin this semester and continue into the Spring 2018 semester, Rokerya said.
“Then the future hope would be to replace the bathroom dispensers with the allocated funding, once we figure that out,” she said.
It is unclear whether this part of the program will happen this academic year, due to issues of funding and logistics.
During the discussion following the presentation, concerns were raised about increasing inclusivity.
Rokerya added that RUSA has a thorough list of all the bathrooms in all the student centers and recreation centers. Their original plan is to make sure that all the dispensers in the women’s bathrooms are stocked and that there is at least one dispenser in every male bathroom and every gender-neutral bathroom, she said.
Natalie Settimo, a School of Arts and Sciences junior who has been actively working on the initiative, echoed this sentiment during an interview in late September.
“We definitely want to help all the populations we can," Settimo said. "So we’re focusing on the women community, the transgender community and non-binary and wherever those may intersect."