Period Poverty: Up Next for MC’s Mission?

by Rose BrennanA&E Editor

In 2017, the U.S. Census Bureau reported that 39.7 million Americans lived at or below the poverty line.  And sometimes, this poverty can translate into ways that are unseen by most people.

As a populace, we are becoming more and more aware of the pervasive effects poverty can have both on individuals and on communities.  But nevertheless, some of these issues remain not-talked about and therefore unaddressed.  And one of these issues is period poverty.

Global Citizen defines period poverty as “the lack of access to sanitary products, menstrual hygiene education, toilets, hand-washing facilities and/or waste management.”   Continued period poverty can pose health risks such as reproductive infections and urinary tract infections, which would result in more money being spent by the person in poverty.

So, how can we address period poverty on this small Lasallian campus, caught smack dab in the middle of a city with an 18.4 percent poverty rate?  Thankfully, there could be a solution to this.

First, I would be amiss if I did not credit Carly Brownell and the rest of JustPeace for their continued involvement in the Period Project, in which the club collects menstrual products on campus and then donates them to homeless shelters in the Bronx.  They truly are already on the front lines of fighting period poverty in our community.

But, more extensively, I have been working closely with Kaylyn Atkins, student body president, in expanding the initiative to supply free or reduced price menstrual products across campus.  A proposal authored by both of us has been introduced into the Manhattan College Senate and will be undergoing review throughout the academic year.

Our hope is that the products will be available during the 2020-2021 academic year.  We also plan to implement more immediate solutions.  For the time being until the bill is hopefully passed, we plan to provide free menstrual products in select locations on campus, including the Lasallian Women and Gender Resource Center in Kelly Commons, Cornerstone in Miguel Hall and the SWE Room in Leo Hall.

Going forward, we will be engaging in a combined effort to combat the stigma surrounding period poverty and menstruation as a whole on campus.  Menstruation is not a secret, but it is treated like one.  Our students should not be ashamed of a biological process, nor should they need to empty their pockets to maintain something that is outside of their control.

As a student who menstruates, I can tell you it is an uncomfortable process at its very best.  And not only is menstruating an uncomfortable process, it is an expensive one as well.  I would not classify myself as someone experiencing period poverty, but I can recognize that pads and tampons can take a toll on someone’s wallet.  Specifically, the price of menstrual products in the Thomas Hall convenience store are simply exorbitant, bordering on unreasonable.  This is an issue that has been talked about among my peers, but never with upper-level administration.  Hopefully, the audience of this conversation is changing thanks to this proposal.

Some might think that an initiative such as this one might be a luxury and not a necessity on the campus.  After all, if one can afford college tuition, one must be able to afford menstrual products, right?  That is not necessarily true, nor are we in a place where we can assume a student’s socioeconomic status.

Furthermore, menstruating might more of an adverse effect on education than we might think.  It is estimated that one in five Americans have missed school once or more due to a lack of period protection.  Are we truly naive enough to think this issue does not impact the Manhattan College in any way?

Similarly to how the Jasper Food Share initiative helps combat food insecurity on campus, Kaylyn’s and my goals for this initiative are similar.  We hope that through it, we can provide a safe, sanitary and affordable environment for our students who menstruate.

Before I conclude, I would like to take an opportunity to thank some allies on campus who have invested great interest into this proposal and are helping Kaylyn and I see it to fruition.  My deepest gratitude goes out to Anne Mavor of the Office of Health Services and to Dr. Roksana Badruddoja, Dr. Jordan Pascoe, Jo-Ann Mullooly and Samantha Walla, all from the Lasallian Women and Gender Resource Center.

The way both Kaylyn and I see it, college is already difficult and expensive enough.  Our students should be primarily concerned with obtaining their education, not if a biological process outside of their control will hinder that.