Starting March 1, feminine hygiene products will be available for free in the first and second floor women’s restrooms in the Harris School of Public Policy.
The initiative was originally created by leaders in the the graduate student RSO Women in Public Policy (WIPP), one of whom is second-year M.P.P. Harris student, Becki Planchard. The lack of feminine products throughout the school was initially brought to her attention by an undergraduate student who was also struggling to find tampons or pads in several University buildings.
“When I became aware that Harris didn't have any machines at all that sold tampons and pads, I just started to wonder how many other buildings at UChicago either didn't have any vending machines for tampons and pads at all or, if they did, were broken,” Planchard said.
Planchard then contacted the University’s facility services in order to conduct an inventory of feminine product vending machines in all buildings at the University of Chicago. She learned that 45 percent of all buildings on campus do not provide these vending machines, and some of the vending machines that were available were either unstocked or broken.
“[Making feminine hygiene products available] is the future of equal treatment of male and female students,” Planchard said. “Everyone deserves to have the same level of comfort when they're on campus just trying to do their best work. You can't do your best work when you're worrying about your period.”
Planchard, along with other students both from WIPP and a second organization called Women’s Initiative Network such as third-year law student Shelby Klose, then approached the interim dean of the Harris School, Kerwin Charles, in order to bring up the idea of placing tampons and pads in Harris bathrooms.
They gave several suggestions to Charles, ranging from refilling the vending machines that already existed downstairs to adding a feminine product vending machine that would accept credit cards to free access to tampons and pads—their ideal solution.
Charles agreed with the suggestion to place tampons in Harris bathrooms for free while also looking to other pilot programs, such as the free tampons and pads available in Reynolds or the medical school, for guidance. While the pilot program in Reynolds had to be voted in through Student Government, Planchard’s just had to be approved by Charles, since hers only applied to the Harris School building.
“This isn't going to break a bank, which is wonderful,” Planchard said. “There aren't any dispensers; they're just going to be shared in baskets or some kind of container in the women's restrooms. So this is really, really low-cost, low-risk.”
Planchard hopes to reach beyond just University students by raising awareness about the lack of feminine hygiene products for low-income women.
“I would hope that we continue to think along the lines of equity on a broader scale, whether that means that Women in Public Policy could hold drives in the future that collect menstrual products for women in need, which we've done in the past, or [if] we [think] as a school of how we can continue to impact the community at large,” Planchard said. “If we're going to have more equitable access, we just have to keep in mind where else there is inequity.”