Menstrual hygiene products will be free and easily accessible in all women’s restrooms at Utah State University starting this summer.
USU will be the first higher education institution in Utah to provide this resource to women at their university.
Currently, dispensers for feminine hygiene products are available in most women’s restrooms on campus, but each pad or tampon costs a quarter to purchase.
According to vice president for student affairs James Morales, the project is “definitely happening,” it’s just a matter of when facilities are able to go in and replace the machines in the bathrooms.
Morales said the initial costs of the project will be around $36,000; this will cover the removal and changing out of all dispensers. After that, it will cost $600 annually to stock new hygiene products. Morales said the cost is worth it, and there will always be funds available for this initiative.
USUSA business senator Brock Hardcastle, who started the project, began working on the proposal last year when he was still campaigning for business senator.
“The student president of the Women in Business Association, or WIBA, pulled me aside and said we’ve been looking at this and wanting to address it,” he said. “No one carries quarters around anymore, and that’s the only way you can pay for them. So, she said it’d be nice if we could get this fee waived.”
Hardcastle said he has a twin sister, so he thought about how she would feel in the situation.
“It’d be terrible to be caught on your period and not be able to access products you need,” he said.
Hardcastle said the proposal brought up some difficult questions.
“Can we get rid of the cost just because of convenience? And, also, the bigger question is is this an equitable process? Is it fair that women have to pay for tampons in public restrooms when we don’t have to spend money on toilet paper?”
Hardcastle added the new machines will look very similar, but instead of inserting a quarter and twisting the knob, you can just twist the knob and the product will automatically pop out.
Huntsman professor Lianne Wappett is an advisor to WIBA and said she was in a board meeting last year when the project was initially brought up. She said Hardcastle embraced the initiative and promised that, if he were elected, he would work on it.
Wappett, along with Morales and others on the business council, have helped Hardcastle make the idea a reality.
“It’s the 21st century. We should be a little beyond this in a country as wealthy as ours,” Wappett said. “Really, it comes down to the ability for female students to have a peace of mind during an unexpected emergency to let them know that we’ve got their backs and they’re taken care of, and they can focus more on academics.”
While other institutions of higher learning in Utah currently don’t have menstrual hygiene products available in their restrooms, many of them, such as University of Utah, have programs like In A Pinch, which provides items like menstrual products to students in need.
In 2019, the Salt Lake City Council also moved to start providing free feminine hygiene products in some city buildings.
“We shouldn’t be charging women and people who menstruate for this very essential and necessary hygiene product,” Council member Amy Fowler said. “And as per all discrimination, it disproportionately affects people from a lower socioeconomic status.”
According to Free The Tampons, an organization that fights for freely accessible feminine products in every restroom outside of the home, an estimated 86% of women 18-54 will experience starting their period in public without the supplies they need. 79% of those women will have to improvise with toilet paper, and 34% are forced to rush home immediately.
“I hope other universities and public locations will take a cue from the great work the students here have done to change something that’s relatively small but can mean a lot in the lives of women,” Wappett said. “It’s with these small steps that we can continually improve our communities.”
Hardcastle said he thinks it’s an exciting step towards gender equity on campus.
“For me it’s been a fun process to look at the obstacles other people face just in the public sphere. I just wasn’t aware of those since it’s not a struggle of mine,” he said. “It’s been rewarding and helped me build empathy for the struggle of people around me and bring awareness to how we can make Utah State a more inclusive place for all people.”
Although there is no set date for the new machines to be put in, Hardcastle anticipates it happening “early in the summer.”