PAD advocates for free menstrual products across campus, but not without roadblocks
The Justice spoke with the current PAD advocacy chair to discuss their initiative and varying roadblocks.
Period Activists at ’Deis is embarking on a new campaign: advocating for Brandeis to provide free menstrual products for undergraduate students. However, “bureaucratic pushback” has stalled the executive board’s latest efforts, according to Grace Lassila ’25, PAD advocacy chair, in an interview with The Justice on Tuesday, Sept. 6.
PAD is a menstrual equity club that focuses on advocacy, education, and service. In the past, they have organized menstrual product drives to donate essential hygiene products to shelters in the greater Waltham and Boston areas. Service Chair Sophie Glassman ’25 reported that last year the club collected and donated 250-300 liners, 500 pads, and 300 tampons.
At the end of last semester, previous Advocacy Chair Savannah Jackson ’22 surveyed Brandeis students about their demographics, menstrual cycles, and the lack of accessibility of period products. She compiled the data into an extensive report, which found that 50% of respondents usually miss at least one day of class each month due to “lack of access to products, period pain, or health conditions.”
Jackson’s survey also collected anonymous testimonials from students. One read, “Honestly, not having enough money to pay for menstrual products is challenging. It’s a decision between buying sanitary products or getting groceries, which is something no one should ever have to decide between because both are equally important to one’s well-being.”
The phenomenon this student is referring to is largely known as period poverty, and it is an intensifying issue in the United States. Data from The Journal of Global Health Reports found that 14.2% of college menstruating people nationwide experienced period poverty in the past year.
Another student’s testimonial stated, “I would love for products to be available in discrete locations. As a trans person, being seen purchasing or picking up period products can be super uncomfortable, and it would be nice to have things in accessible locations that are still relatively private.”
Encouraged to act on these findings, PAD President Kyla Speizer ’23 and the rest of the executive board partnered with the Student Union as well as graduate students from the Heller School for Social Policy and Management to advocate for free menstrual products to be available to all undergraduate students. Lisa Thorn, a second-year Heller graduate student, reached out to PAD to help when she discovered that free menstrual products are provided for graduate students at Heller and the International Business School but not for undergraduate students.
Unfortunately, the process to apply for funding has been challenging. Last year, Jackson collaborated with Student Union President Peyton Gillespie ’25 to begin the Community Enhancement and Emergency Fund application for free menstrual products in all first-year dorm bathrooms as a pilot project. However, “Facilities has not been the most forthcoming about information,” Lassila said. In order to fill out the CEEF application, PAD needs to know who currently pays for period product dispensers on campus and how regularly they are restocked, so that they can submit an estimate of how much of the budget would need to be directed to their cause. Not only has the head of facilities not shared this information, but they also insisted over email that PAD find where all dispensers are located on campus, according to Lassila.
In response, PAD organized a scavenger hunt on Friday, Sept. 9 to go into different buildings on campus and document which bathrooms have dispensers, whether they have products or not, and which company produces the dispensers.
Once PAD collects that information, they can submit their application for the CEEF fund. If that application is approved, the next step is going to the Board of Trustees to prove that there is a need on campus for these products and that part of the budget should be directed to the expenses.
Lassila shared that PAD has been trying to gain momentum for their movement by putting QR codes around campus to collect student testimonials. “People need to say, ‘Yes, we need this,’ so that we can go to the Board of Trustees and prove, ‘Hey, these are the students, this is what they want. This is what we want. This is not new. We’ve been around. Please help us,’” she stated.
PAD has also been sharing information on their social media about important legislation such as the “I AM” bill, which, if passed, would make free period products accessible in prisons, homeless shelters, and public schools in Massachusetts.
In mid-October, PAD will be hosting their annual Open Mic Night at Cholmondley’s to talk about menstruation with students and professors in a safe, inclusive space and reduce the stigma associated with menstruation. Lassila emphasized that PAD is open to menstruators of all gender identities.