Printing is free, so why aren’t tampons?

I’m sitting on the toilet, thinking this is going to be a typical trip to the bathroom. I had the urge to pee, and without hesitation, I quickly located the nearest restroom to fulfill my need. I remain seated for a time, overcome by the senses of relief and alleviation that we are all too familiar with. I feel good; I am at peace. As I’m getting ready to exit the stall, I feel a sudden pang of discomfort from my abdominal region. In that instant, my heart has dropped to my stomach; a sense of panic immediately ensues. After precise calculations and efficient monitoring, courtesy of my menstrual cycle calendar app, I definitely had a week left before my period was supposed to come. Rising from the toilet seat and timidly looking down at the bowl, I am deeply disconcerted by the sight of an awful color, red. Accepting the fact that I am quarter-less and terrible at math, I deeply exhale and begin to employ my engineering skills to construct a makeshift pad from the finest of materials, one-ply toilet paper.

While I wish I could say these moments are rare, menstruation cycles are notorious for their unpredictability. No matter how “regular” you think you are, periods come and go whenever they please. With that being said, I applaud Brown University for providing free hygiene products to its students. Students at other institutions, like Columbia University and UCLA, are also calling on their administrators to provide free hygiene products. One student at Grinnell College went as far as prying open pad and tampon dispensers in restrooms, making the products readily available for anyone who needed them. From open letters to online petitions, students from all over the nation are desperately trying to convince their administrators that hygiene products are necessities. Tampons are absurdly expensive, with some boxes costing close to 10 dollars. Let’s not forget that individuals who have menstruation cycles may also purchase pads, panty liners, and pain medication, which adds up to a whopping 18,000 dollars in a lifetime. One would be naive if they did not also consider the expenses of purchasing new underwear and clothing due to spotting or bleeding. Still think hygiene products are “luxury items?”

To further educate readers who may object to the notion of free hygiene products, it’s only fair that I elaborate on the discomfort of periods. While it is no secret that menstruation is naturally occurring, the thought of bleeding through clothing terrifies even the most “regular” members of society. How will people react if they see a red stain on the back of your pants? What if you don’t have a jacket or sweater to tie around your waist? For those individuals with debilitating periods, a common concern is getting out of bed in the morning. Midol may work to alleviate minor cramps and backaches, but what do folks take if their cramps mirror labor pains? Bloating, fatigue, and headaches also accompany periods. If the message wasn’t clear, periods are annoying inconveniences. Even with that being said, do not be fooled by menstrual myths. Individuals who experience menstruation are still the same badasses on and off their periods.

There is no reason why Swarthmore College should not join the expanding list of schools involved in this movement. The college provides printing, laundry, and condoms for free, so what’s stopping it from adding hygiene products to the list? You can abstain from sex; you can’t abstain from menstruation. Menstruation cannot be limited to female-identifying students either; we must remember that this fight is inclusive. With an endowment of 1.8 billion dollars, it’s absurd that hygiene product dispensers cost money. As a supposed “cash free” campus, why should anyone be expected to have a quarter on them? I would rather continue to create my toilet paper pads than pay the school every time I need to quell my flow. For those individuals reading who have never had to experience the excitement of periods, think back to the embarrassing stories told to you by friends and family who have been gifted with menstruation.

Swarthmore funding free hygiene products should not be a question. Free products should be available in every bathroom on campus. For dorms, RAs could re-stock bathrooms or give the responsibility to someone who lives on the hall. The school could also employ a program similar to that of the Sexual Health Advocates, where supplies are available outside of designated rooms. Unlike Brown, this should not be funded by a student-run group nor should it be limited to a single academic year. While Brown is paving the way for other schools, I know that Swarthmore can do even better. The school’s top priority should be the health and wellness of its students. We launched the world’s first fossil fuel divestment campaign, what’s next?

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