Since its inception six years ago, Period Activists at ’Deis has had one mission: guarantee menstrual equity on campus by providing free menstrual products to all Brandeis students. After years of planning, advocates in PAD began to see the culmination of their efforts this semester with the implementation of their Pilot Program to install free menstrual products in first-year dorm buildings in North, East, and Massel Quads. Working with the Student Union, they applied for funding for this program from the Community Enhancement and Emergency Fund. While CEEF provided a temporary budget, PAD always intended to secure permanent financial support from the University’s facilities budget by demonstrating a need for a broader free product initiative among students. However, after a series of exchanges with administration, the leaders of the Pilot Program have newfound doubts about receiving necessary funding to maintain and expand their program. 

To attract student and administrative attention to their cause, PAD posted a petition on April 27. In only four days, the petition has garnered 400 signatures in support from a diverse group of undergraduate students, graduate students, and alumni. “Despite the positive impact of the Pilot Program, endless support for our initiative, and immeasurable hours of unpaid student labor that has been put towards this project, the allocation for this funding has been denied,” the petition reads.

The Justice interviewed the Pilot Program’s organizers, PAD’s President Kyla Speizer ’23; former Student Union President Peyton Gillespie ’25; and Lisa Thorn MPP’23 on April 27.

Thorn explained how it was the students’ responsibility to apply for funding, conduct research to assess student needs for menstrual products — as well as the location of each product dispenser on campus — and refill new dispensers on a biweekly basis. 

“The Pilot Program was implemented through student labor, student activism – even meeting with the vendors and the contractors, Citron and Aunt Flow, was all student-led. The administration has literally provided nothing. They have not provided labor, they have not provided monetary support. They have given us their thoughts and prayers, but that’s really all they’ve done,” she shared.

In an April 28 interview with the Justice, PAD Advocacy Chair Grace Lassila shared that support from facilities administration has similarly been lacking. “We could have been doing it really efficiently from the start, but because of facilities … it’s been really frustrating to [accomplish] our mission,” she said. “The only thing facilities has done up to this point to help us with the pilot program is install the dispensers. But even still, in East, there were a couple that were missing,” Lassila said.

To study the Pilot Program’s impact, PAD conducted a survey this semester, comparing the new data with responses from a Fall 2022 survey. In an extensive 27-page report titled, “An update on the status of menstrual product accessibility on Brandeis campus,” PAD published the results of these surveys.

“The change in accessibility, the change in affordability, the change in [class attendance] — everything changed by an astronomical amount between the experiences that students had in those quads in the fall semester and the spring semester,” Speizer described. “The program really impacted students and genuinely changed their experience being a menstruator on campus in a very positive way.”

PAD’s findings from their spring survey more than support Speizer’s claims. While 108 out of 184 respondents, or 58.7%, indicated experiencing difficulties with accessing menstrual products in Fall 2022, only 8 out of 176, or 4.5%, indicated experiencing difficulties in Spring 2023. Similarly, 6.8% reported struggles with affording menstrual products in spring 2023 as opposed to 28.3% in fall 2022. Providing free products in certain dorms on campus has also improved class attendance. Last fall, 11.4% of respondents missed three or more classes per menstrual cycle, but following the implementation of the pilot program, only 2.8% of respondents missed three or more classes. Notably, not a single respondent indicated that they felt less secure as a menstruator after the Pilot Program; instead, 94.7% of respondents said that they do feel more secure as menstruators.

While compiling this information for administration, PAD and the Student Union have  also been responsible for the program’s upkeep — filling the 52 dispensers every other week to ensure that they are fully stocked.

Speizer said that since Jan. 17, teams from PAD and Student Union refill dispensers in North, Massell, and East Quads. She and Lassila estimated that every restock takes between one and two hours for each quad, and that they usually have between two to five volunteers each instance. In addition to providing unpaid labor for these efforts, the students are required to store the pad and tampon refills in the Student Union closet.

Furthermore, Speizer expressed that an ideal refill system is one that would not be the students’ responsibility, at least not without compensation. She said that in the best case, the refill system would be the responsibility of an outside contractor or someone within the facilities department who is held accountable for the work but paid proportionately. 

While maintaining the project and collecting data, the organizers have also communicated with Lori Kabel, director of facilities services, and Carol Fierke, provost and executive vice president for Academic Affairs. According to Lassila, PAD contacted Vice President of Student Affairs Andrea Dine to set up a meeting after spring break to share their proposal for facilities to incorporate the $43,000 cost for the free menstrual product program into their budget — an estimate they calculated with the help of Citron, the vendor that currently supplies paid dispensers on campus. 

“It just so happened that Kabel had already requested $43,000 in [the facilities] budget,” said Speizer. She also added that Kabel was willing to allocate that money to the Pilot Program. However, on Tuesday April 4, they received an email from Lois Stanley, vice president for Campus Planning and Operations, where she relayed that Brandeis did not have the money to support their program, thus halting the program’s expansion.

This email motivated Speizer, Gillespie, Thorn, and Lassila to contact the Justice. “Essentially, we have to decide what to cut from their budget if we want them to fund menstrual products. This is counterintuitive, because the point of this initiative is that complimentary menstrual products are just as important as anything else,” their press release read.  

The student leaders highlighted how they are both the “problem solvers” and the “customers” in the current dynamic of the program. “We, the students, have proven the need, support, and effectiveness of this program. We are the customers in this relationship. We pay to attend this university. Our needs and wants should be their priority,” they wrote.

They explained that the administration pushes off taking action with the intent of letting it fall out of priority with students graduating before they can make real change. “This is not something that we’re just going to let them push off until it’s no longer something that they care about,” Speizer stated, “despite all the information that we have provided to the administration, based on our Pilot Program, I would hypothesize that no one has read the report that we wrote, or a lot of the resources that we have provided.” 

To emphasize the lack of period-related knowledge amongst administration, Speizer shared an anecdote of an administrator suggesting that PAD provide birth control in order to avoid having to purchase period products for the free dispensers.

“The whole system is rigged to keep marginalized voices, marginalized,” Thorn added. “The really frustrating thing is when we talk about equity, it’s about helping marginalized people. It’s about helping minorities. It means that it’s not always going to be a fiscally advantageous decision in the short term. You’re spending a lot of money on a small group of people to make their lives significantly better.”

Lassila and Thorn expressed concern over the University’s tendency to advertise itself as a social justice, or top ten social policy school, while failing to meet students’ wellness needs. “You can’t claim to be a social justice school when you are the main roadblock in a social justice initiative,” Lassila insisted. 

Lassila said that regardless of the administration’s decision on whether or not to provide funding, PAD and Student Union plan to continue their collaboration and reapply for the CEEF fund to continue stocking the existing complementary dispensers, even though it was not their original plan. 

“CEEF is not, in our minds, a menstrual fund,” Gillsepie explained, “it’s a fund [that] we used appropriately to kick the Pilot Program off to fund it … for the purpose of demonstrating to the administration that this is feasible, this is something that is needed.” He said that CEEF is a budget that comes out of the Student Activities Fee included with students’ tuition, the $250,000 grant coming out of that collective sum of money. The difference between having the PAD program funded by CEEF again versus facilities is that the budget comes out of students’ tuition, rather than the University. “Ultimately, the responsibility in our minds and in students’ minds falls on the University to carve out a part of the budget to prioritize such an important health service for all menstruators on campus,” Gillespie said.

In a May 1 email interview with the Justice, Andrea Dine shared, “part of the Shapiro Campus Center Enhancement Project includes the relocation of food insecurity resources into the SCC, with which we will make menstrual products and other personal care items available.” 

Dine then clarified that these products will be complimentary, and if there is a surplus of products, “[administration] could certainly consider other locations as well.” She did not comment about facilities’ failure to fund PAD’s Pilot Program. 

The plans to provide free products in the SCC were not shared with Speizer, Lassila, Gillespie, or Thorn. “I think that any way that we can broaden access to menstrual products on campus is great, so if this program is actually implemented, that’s a good thing and serves our mission,” said Speizer in a May 1 statement to the Justice. “I find it very frustrating that [Dine] did not communicate this information with us.” According to Speizer, there is still inconsistent funding for menstrual products and lack of accountability.

Although the Pilot Program is not going to receive their expected funding, the organizers adamantly expressed that this is not the end of the initiative. Speizer emphasized that all work that PAD and the Student Union have put into the project matters because they have created a space where people are openly talking about period products, whereas PAD struggled to become a club in the past. She recalled that the Student Union Allocations Board fought PAD becoming a club out of concerns that it would be “just like any other feminist club,” Speizer recalled.

“People are now conscious of the work we’re doing, and that in [and] of itself is astronomical and reflects so much on the efforts we put in…” Speizer said. “I would just want to tell every single PAD member that the work that we are doing matters, even if we keep hitting wall, after wall, after wall.”

To Speizer, seeing how well-known and supported PAD and this Pilot Program are shows that the club has already made a significant impact for the community. However, that is not to say that the next PAD and Student Union leaders will abandon the program without a fight. 

Stanley, Kabel, and Fierke did not respond to the Justice’s request for comment.