Photo by Kayla Michaud |CIGAR| “While tampons may be purchased in the pharmacy or at the CVS in the Emporium, they are not regularly distributed on campus through the departments that routinely give out condoms.”
By Kelsey Santmyer and Theresa Brown
Access to preventative contraceptives, such as condoms, are a priority for the University of Rhode Island through Housing and Residential Life, Health Education, and many different departments on campus, but what about the biological demands of menstruating students in need of sanitary products?
While tampons may be purchased in the pharmacy or at the CVS in the Emporium, they are not regularly distributed on campus through the departments that routinely give out condoms.
Available in dire situations, the Women’s Clinic at Health Services provides students in need with a handful to get them through the day. Micheline Poirerie-Woolf, a nurse practitioner at the Women’s Clinic, explained that for any campus, free tampons are hard to come by.
“We give away a couple as needed to individual students,” Poirerie-Woolf said. “We can’t just leave them out, or they’d be gone immediately. Even we have trouble getting them from time to time, so we don’t always advertise that we give them away.”
With no available budget for the University to purchase a supply of tampons for students, Poirerie-Woolf explained that tampons can only be found when students are really in need.
“Of course if someone gets their period and does not have supplies, all they need to do is come in and ask,” Poirerie-Woolf said. “We donate items to Rhody Outpost, they tell us what they need and we send what we can.”
Health Education allots one bag of 30 condoms to Resident Assistants daily to distribute within residence halls as well as providing campus affiliates such as the Gender and Sexuality Center and Women’s Center with preventative supplies. Organizing programming and providing educational services, the department informs the community on safe practices for consensual intercourse.
Penny Rosenthal, director and house manager of the Women’s Center, explained that the University receives the condoms from one of the state associations, and because they come without cost, they are able to be distributed freely across campus.
Rosenthal believes the Women’s Center distributed sanitary products last year after visible need, but no longer provides them.
“We have a very limited budget,” Rosenthal said.
As the former Women’s Center Director at Iowa State, Rosenthal provided sanitary items by contacting businesses like Proctor & Gamble to request samples. As that information spread, more institutions began requesting samples, creating increased demand and causing limited supplies of free samples.
At Iowa State, the Women’s Center was not a residential facility. Supplies provided served the users of the house, as well as bringing individuals that found out to the house.
“This is a different arrangement,” Rosenthal explained. “For me to provide the sanitary needs of 33-36 menstruating women is fiscally not feasible.”
“It was not an anomaly at Iowa State, it was something happening across the nation in higher education,” Rosenthal said. “Has it happened here? I don’t think so, but that doesn’t mean that it couldn’t.”
Rosenthal thinks that making tampons available on campus could be simple with the right funding and communication.
“It could be as simple as if there was a basket in every bathroom that got replenished when product was low. It doesn’t have to be complicated, I’ve seen it work well, but it does take collaboration and communication.” Rosenthal said.
“I think we could definitely make the case that there is a financial burden and a disregard by many individuals, the Women’s Center included, of the biological needs of females at URI,” Rosenthal said.
Recognizing the inequality of a biological reality, Rosenthal recalls being a single-mother putting herself through graduate school and having to make the decision of providing for her family or buying sanitary products.
“The third week of the month it never failed, I’d run out of food stamps and only have $5, and I’d need milk and tampons,” Rosenthal explained. “I can’t resolve that safely, equitably, comfortably. Milk always won and it was really uncomfortable as a woman.”
Within the commercial market, tampons are taxed as a luxury item, however many would argue that menstruating is hardly a luxury.