This January, the student group Free Pads for Undergrads introduced a program to provide free emergency pads and tampons for menstruating students and staff in female, gender-neutral, and select male bathrooms. The products are currently funded by the Student Budget Committee and are distributed biweekly by the 16 member coalition that is co-chaired by Chloe Klaus ’19 and Leemay Chen ’19.
A push for this initiative on campus emerged back in September of 2016 when Shayla Smith ’20 published a Phoenix op-ed entitled “Printing is free, so why aren’t tampons?” that gained much attention on campus.
“I saw an article about how Brown [University] had started a similar initiative, and [that project] is essentially what inspired me to write about that topic. This whole thing is totally new to me … I’ve never started an initiative like this or been part of an initiative like this,” said Smith.
Co-Chairs of Free Pads for Undergrads Chloe Klaus ’19 and Leemay Chen ’19 also saw a need for a service for menstruating students on campus. Klaus said her inspiration for the program came after she joined the Roosevelt Institute Chapter at Swarthmore. One of the issues that she tackled as a member of the institute was women’s and reproductive rights.
Then, Klaus and Chen spoke about working together, and Chen mentioned the idea of providing free pads and tampons in bathrooms at Swarthmore.
“It’s just as much of a necessity to have pads and tampons as it is to have toilet paper, soap, or water in a bathroom. It seems pretty outdated to charge menstruating individuals for emergency hygienic supplies,” said Klaus.
Klaus and Chen met with staff members, such as Director of the Worth Health Center Alice Holland, and members of Environmental Services in order to put together the logistics of the pilot program, including stocking and distribution, and get the program on its feet. Smith had also previously corresponded with Holland about the program when she first wrote her article, so Holland was familiar with the idea beforehand.
“This was a collaborative effort between student groups and campus departments. Currently, the Health & Wellness Center is offering space for supply storage. The folks in EVS have been instrumental in troubleshooting, ordering supplies, and distribution,” added Holland.
Pads and tampons can currently be found in all academic buildings and other buildings around campus, which are heavily trafficked by students. Currently, the pads and tampons are not available in residence halls due to funding constraints.
“Our funding is not ideal because we don’t have [enough money for] products in all buildings. It’s not where we want it to be exactly,” Klaus stated.
The group’s long-term goal is institutionalization, so that students are no longer responsible for the management of finances.
“We’ve enjoyed the leadership role, and it’s been a really great experience working with faculty and staff, but [the program] is mainly being done as a way to gather feedback and ideas in order to have it be institutionalized,” Klaus stated.
Smith echoed Klaus’s sentiments.
“We want the school to pay for it; we don’t want students paying for it,” Smith said.
Smith believes that this kind of action would be significant and show that Swarthmore cares about its students since it supports the student population, as well as faculty and staff.
However, funding is not the only issue on the group’s mind. They are also interested in getting more members.
“I definitely think it’s moreso that we need more students getting involved, so that we can get [products] into more bathrooms on campus.There’s only so many bathrooms that each person can stock,” Smith said.
Environmental services has played a large role in aiding the implementation of the program.
“We have shared the supplies we have on hand, and ordered the additional supplies requested. In addition, we mechanically altered the existing dispensers in included restrooms to allow them to dispense products at no cost,” said Vice President for Facilities and Capital Projects Stuart Hain.
The opening of the dispensers has been a new development, and came as a surprise to the members of the program.
“It was actually kind of a surprise, but we’re really happy about that. We will still use the baskets though because dispensers aren’t in male bathrooms, for example,” said Klaus
There has been a bit of confusion with regards to why the program has decided to place the baskets in select male restrooms.
“We don’t have them in all of the men’s bathrooms or even many of them. We tried to think about heavily trafficked bathrooms and put many of them there first. The reason for that is because we want people to know that this is a non-exclusionary initiative, that they are being thought of, and that these products are for anyone who menstruates,” said Smith
The confusion over this decision has been seen in tangible ways.
“We’ve seen [these products] be put outside of male bathrooms or be placed in the women’s bathrooms. I understand why people would be confused, but you don’t have to identify as female to mensturate,” Smith said.
With regards to the future of the program, Klaus said they are planning to present the idea of institutionalization in the next academic year. First, they will gather feedback from students on the program in order to gauge what needs to be improved versus what should be kept the same.
“We’re holding off on pushing for [institutionalization] until the end of this semester because we want to see how the pilot program goes first, so that we can have [findings] to present to the administration. Hopefully by the next school year, we will have presented our idea to the administration, and they will be able to see that it’s a relatively inexpensive endeavor,” said Klaus.
Until then, Free Pads for Undergrads will continue to be funded by the Student Budget Committee and organized by students who join the program.
The Free Pads for Undergrads initiative has gained traction on campus, providing menstruating community members access to emergency pads and tampons. Moving forward, it will be seen if the college will take up the program in a more comprehensive fashion.