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RUSA pilots complimentary menstrual hygiene program on select campuses

<p>The Rutgers University Student Assembly’s initiative to provide students with complimentary menstrual hygiene products is being tested at 3 of the 5 campuses in order to gauge the program’s success.&nbsp;</p>

The Rutgers University Student Assembly’s initiative to provide students with complimentary menstrual hygiene products is being tested at 3 of the 5 campuses in order to gauge the program’s success. 

A recent pilot program was launched across campus that supplies students with access to free menstrual products. As the first of its kind, the program aims to meet student needs for hygienic, accessible feminine products. 

The Rutgers University Student Assembly (RUSA) was the key driver in implementing this program. Planning for such an idea began in 2017 after several RUSA members recognized the then-current state of student provisions offered.

Sabeen Rokerya, former RUSA Student Affairs Committee Chairwoman and a School of Environmental and Biological Sciences junior, said that after beginning close work with the Rutgers Student Food Pantry, her and her peers were quick to notice the lack of access to specific resources that many students on campus may need. 

“We started connecting with other Big Ten Universities about the provision of these products and discussed the issue at depth with the Douglass Governing Council, which represents the Douglass Residential College student population. Through these conversations, we further realized that financial insecurity for students was not limited to food and textbooks, but that it may include a wider variety of necessities,” she said.

The movement to redefine menstrual products as being a fundamental need rather than a luxury good has influenced action in several regions around the country. As of 2016, 11 states have eliminated the tax on feminine products, New Jersey being one of them. New York City passed measures in July 2016 to “provide free menstrual products in all public schools, shelters and correctional facilities,” according to a USA Today College article.

Several colleges, such as The University of Arizona and Columbia University, have joined the free menstrual product movement and started implementing programs similar to RUSA’s, according to the article. 

Evan Covello, former RUSA president and a Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy senior, explained RUSA’s commitment to ensuring that students have access to whatever resources they need. Once RUSA was introduced to the possible hindrance of that goal via feminine products, it conducted research, he said.

The process started with familiarization of the products already offered. After comparing the prices of tampons and sanitary napkins in on-campus convenience stores to off-campus ones, RUSA discovered that on-campus stores charged nearly three times more than off-campus stores for such items. Mathematically, the University would save money by purchasing products in bulk than at retail price, Rokerya said.

In discussing the logistics and finances of implementing the program, RUSA reached out to other on-campus organizations, such as The Women’s Center Coalition, The Douglass Governing Council and the University Facilities and Capital Planning (UFCP), Covello said. 

UFCP, which was providing more affordable products before the proposal, approved of RUSA’s initiative and offered to provide funding for the installation and stocking of dispensers in the Busch, Livingston and Douglass student centers, he said.

In nature of being a pilot program, only 3 of the 5 campuses were stocked with dispensers, but there are plans to expand to the College Avenue and Douglass campuses, Rokerya said in an email.

She said that the pilot program was conceived for RUSA to gauge how successful the distribution of free menstrual hygiene products on campus would be and how often the machines would need restocking. 

“We worked with University Facilities and Capital Planning to have the machines placed in all female and gender-neutral bathrooms of the statistically most-visited locations of Rutgers University—New Brunswick, which are the Livingston and Busch student centers. Over the summer, we will assess the success rate of this pilot initiative, and hopefully have the products available on all campuses,” Rokerya said. 

This initiative looks to help alleviate the issue of finances and accessibility, while maintaining a sense of security among individuals who are unprepared in the restroom. 

Free The Tampons, a campaign working toward the free, accessible menstrual products, reported that 86 percent of menstruating individuals had their periods in public without the proper resources and only 8 percent of individuals found dispensers which worked every time. 

So far, there has been positive student feedback (about free menstrual products on campus), Covello said.

“I have received very positive feedback from students. Students drive the work that RUSA does and free menstrual hygiene products was no exception. This was a program that students wanted to see implemented. We will continue to meet with administrators of the student centers to gather additional feedback,” he said. 

Despite the recent arrival of the new government body, Suzanne Link, the current RUSA president and a School of Arts and Sciences junior, plans to further develop the program.

“I am looking forward to sitting down with UFCP this month to discuss the success of this program and how to expand it to our other campuses. I am pleased at the progress that has been made thus far on making menstrual hygiene products free at Rutgers University and this is a program that I will continue to improve as president,” Link said in an email to The Daily Targum. 

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