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Credit: Emma Boey

Penn has approved a pilot program to provide free menstrual products in several buildings across campus — a move that comes after students called on administrators to make the products more accessible last semester.

The Undergraduate Assembly and Graduate and Professional Student Assembly have held several meetings with administrators from the Vice Provost for University Life and Student Health Services throughout this semester. On April 10, VPUL spokesperson Monica Yant Kinney emailed the groups and approved the initiative to bring more tampons and pads to campus bathrooms. Director of Campus Health Ashlee Halbritter said the program will begin in the next four to six weeks. 

Halbritter said the details are not "wholly fleshed out yet" and the University has not selected specific buildings or the amount of menstrual products that will be offered.

The initiative is not intended to provide all students with their entire monthly supply of menstrual products, Halbritter said, adding that the University aims to give students free products in emergency situations.

GAPSA Chair of External Affairs B.J. Courville, a second-year Penn Law student, said the highest priority areas will likely be where students spend the most time, such as libraries and buildings where classes are held.

“There’s such a stigma associated with menstruation and vaginas,” Courville said. “I think a lot of people have been afraid to talk about the need.” 

Halbritter said the funding for the program will come from GAPSA and VPUL, and that students as well as Maintenance and Housekeeping will likely work on stocking machines or baskets of products in bathrooms. The student groups and the administration have not yet determined the entire cost of the program, Courville said.

Since January, the UA and GAPSA have worked to advocate for the availability of pads and tampons on campus. In the past, both groups have worked separately with administrators to advocate for the service, UA New Student Representative and College and Wharton freshman Nikhil Gupta said. In December 2018, Gupta spoke about increasing the availability of free menstrual products on campus during an open forum at the University Council meeting.

Credit: Biruk Tibebe

Courville said she hopes that someday every bathroom on campus will have free menstrual products regardless of gender or number of stalls.

Courville added that during her first semester at Penn in fall 2017, she noticed that the bathrooms did not provide free pads and tampons, unlike other colleges she visited, such as Columbia University or Suffolk University Law School. She said later that semester, Penn Law installed two machines that provide free menstrual products, but the machines were not always stocked and some machines still charged people quarters. 

This semester, VPUL and SHS created a map of available menstrual products across campus.  After the map was released, UA members surveyed 60 to 70 locations on campus and found that the majority of the machines were either out of stock or broken, Gupta said. 

The UA and GAPSA presented their results of the survey to Halbritter and Kinney to highlight inaccuracies and issues with the current availability of pads and tampons in campus buildings. In response, Halbritter said Maintenance and Housekeeping is increasing the frequency they stock machines with pads and tampons and are working to repair broken machines.

GAPSA also gathered student anecdotes highlighting experiences of students who did not have the necessary menstrual products easily available, which they submitted to administrators. Courville said for example, one medical student performed surgery and another law student interviewed with a top law firm without the menstrual products they needed.

In February, GAPSA and the UA also circulated a petition addressed to President Amy Gutmann which demanded the expansion of free menstrual products and later garnered 834 signatures.

"Hopefully, by the end of the school year, by the time we're all taking finals, there's a few more free tampons," Courville said.

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