I think it is safe to assume that most female students at Bryant have been met with the familiar panic of period unpreparedness. That horrible moment when you are sitting in class or headed to a meeting, and you realize, with no pads or tampons on you, that you got your period. With any luck you have a better prepared friend to spare you some protection. Otherwise, you are left friendless and quarter-less in a bathroom stall, trying to remain optimistic that you can depend on a bundle of toilet paper. Many women who face this predicament end up blaming themselves for being ill-prepared. But recently I’ve been wondering, what if the fact that women sometimes forget tampons isn’t the problem? What if the problem is that we can’t rely on bathrooms on campus to protect us in our recurring time of need?
Women spend about 7.5 months on campus in an academic year, meaning that in a four year college career, most will experience about 30 menstrual cycles on campus. With the average cycle occurring for about five days, most women will spend about 150 of her days on campus with her period. In total, that’s about one and half semesters. Time is not the only thing spent on periods, though, many women might not notice exactly how much money is spent on items related to their period. For many, expenses do not end with a box of tampons; a lot of women must pay for pain relievers, birth control, and other products. Between all of the added costs, video editors at Buzzfeed estimated that they spend anywhere between $40 and $60 dollars on their period monthly. If women at Bryant are paying for the same sorts of expenses, that means that they will spend somewhere between $1,200 and $1,800 on their thirty cycles by their graduation date.
Access to feminine protection is a basic health necessity and it is imperative to one’s ability to perform as a student at Bryant. Despite this, such access is pretty limited on campus. In the restrooms with dispensaries, women have to pay to get a tampon (aside from two bathrooms in the unistructure, and I’m sad to assume this is simply due to a mechanical error). Bryant has a lot of features that make it a welcoming, comfortable environment, but it’s hard for campus to feel like home when you have to adjust your routine and spend a lot of money to stock your room in an effort to accommodate your period.
All of this is especially upsetting when you note all of the avenues for students to get arguably less necessary items, like condoms, for free on campus. In addition to bowls of condoms always being readily available in more than one location, opportunities to take free condoms are often celebrated by various groups. Obviously, it’s great that the university is so supportive of important safe sex initiatives, but it is peculiar to me that safe sex protection is so blatantly prioritized over how 41 percent of the student population handles their naturally occurring menstrual cycles. The need for safe sex protection comes from a consensual choice, but access to feminine protection is absolutely essential to the success of female students at Bryant.
I want to note how genuinely hesitant I was to submit this article. When I told friends I was writing this, I was met with comments like “that’s bold” or “that’s brave.” And I started to worry that I would be ridiculed for writing this, or treated differently as a student leader. I don’t think that talking about a natural human health process should be considered brave, and I don’t think that bringing attention to this issue should be considered bold. We are encouraged to celebrate safe sex and free condoms, but this natural process that is a tremendous part of life for 41 percent of students remains silenced.
I understand that at Bryant, we are privileged women, because unlike so many women in other parts of the world, our bleeding bodies have not prevented us from sitting in classrooms of higher education. But Bryant, you’re also in a privileged position, because you have the ability to build new buildings, to expand new initiatives, and to provide free condoms. I hope that someday you’ll find that you have the ability to provide campus with free or subsidized tampons, so that women can have the right to sit comfortably in classrooms to learn about business, law, marketing, and all of the bleeding bodies that came before theirs.