After five years in the making, Period Activists at ’Deis has officially launched the Free Menstrual Product Pilot Program in collaboration with the Student Union. Facilities Services has installed free menstrual product dispensers in the women’s and gender neutral bathrooms in Massell Quad, North Quad, and East Quad over winter break. Three students — PAD President Kyla Speizer ’22, PAD Advocacy Chair Grace Lassila ’25, and Student Union President Peyton Gillespie ’25 — spearheaded the project over the past year and collected data to demonstrate the need for free products in every building on campus. 

Last year, the former PAD advocacy chair, Savannah Jackson ’22, conducted a comprehensive report on the needs and preferences of menstruators at Brandeis. The 2020-2021 PAD Report quantified the struggles of students experiencing a lack of accessibility to period products. Findings indicated that over half — 51.7% — of the 242 respondents have bled through underwear or clothes on campus because they were unable to obtain menstrual products. 

“We think that being on a college campus and paying tuition, there should be free access to these products that are a necessary part of menstruators’ lives,” Gillespie said in a Jan. 21 interview with the Justice.

According to the 2020-2021 PAD Report, approximately 50% of the surveyed have missed class at least once due to “lack of access to products, period pain, or health conditions.”

“That feels like too many. Even just a few classes feels like too many. Especially at a school like Brandeis where it is expensive. It’s expensive to miss class. It’s expensive to have class,” Lassila said in a Jan. 20 interview with the Justice. 

A broad range of challenges, such as affordability, proximity, and quality, deterred students from using the few resources that were available prior to the pilot program. Across campus, there are more paid dispensers than any other resource, but 94.7% of respondents have never purchased products from the dispensers. 

Last semester, PAD and the Student Union organized a scavenger hunt to log the number of dispensers — paid and complimentary — in every bathroom in every building at Brandeis that is open to undergraduate students. In the 37 buildings they visited, 54% did not have a single dispenser in any bathroom. Of the nine free dispensers they found, seven were broken or empty. 

The scavenger hunt, coupled with the 2020-2021 PAD Report, provided the preliminary information that helped set the pilot program into motion. After extensive research on potential product suppliers, the team found that the company Aunt Flow provided the best quality pads and tampons at an affordable price.

Taped beside each dispenser is a QR code to a survey, through which students can anonymously submit feedback about the products and indicate when they need to be restocked. The Student Union is also hosting a town hall on Thursday, Feb. 2 at 7 p.m. in the Shapiro Campus Center Multipurpose Room, where students will be able to vocalize their thoughts on the new dispensers.

Student responses will be essential in PAD’s effort to obtain funding for campus-wide resources. “We have had people express that they really want dispensers in academic buildings, which we absolutely understand and appreciate. That is absolutely our end goal,” Speizer shared in a Jan. 21 interview with the Justice. 

Another long-term goal for PAD is to provide free resources in men’s restrooms. “There are some men who menstruate [...] we should have access for everybody and not just those individuals that identify with the binary,” Lassila said.

By providing pads and tampons in all bathrooms, Lassila hopes the stigma around menstruation will be reduced. “People deserve shame-free living,” she added. “It’s just so hard when you don’t have access to resources [...] You’re left in the dark about your own body, your own reproductive health, your own mental health.”

Although the pilot program brings Brandeis much closer to the ultimate goal of having menstrual products available campus-wide, Gillespie anticipates that the initiative will require the time and dedication of future student leaders. “It’s about building that legacy for the next person to come along and build on that,” he said. “[Providing free menstrual products] is a big goal, and it’s an ambitious goal, but it’s one that we certainly hope to see achieved.”

Speizer explained that their current focus is to sustain the pilot program for the next year. Within the fiscal year 2024, PAD and the Student Union plan to continue working with administration to request a budget increase as well as Facilities Services’ support in restocking efforts. Currently, PAD and Student Union members are responsible for replenishing empty dispensers, but with the campus-wide initiative, it will be less feasible to restock the dispensers themselves. Until then, Speizer, Lassila, and Gillespie encourage students to support PAD throughout the pilot program.

“PAD is definitely not stopping now that we have free products. We’re not going to be complacent,” Lassila said. “I want to leave this place better than I found it.”