Three years ago, I wrote about the empty tampon and pad dispensers on campus for Hey Marlene, an online student publication.
In the article, I wrote, “Getting rid of the empty machines will not solve the problem.”
Three years later, all the dispensers in Science Hall (six restrooms) and the library (three restrooms) are gone and the walls have been repainted to show no signs of them ever existing. As for the new business and engineering buildings that were opened in spring 2017, there are no dispensers.
The empty tampon dispensers that do exist have insulting signs that are laminated “not stocked.” It’s as if facilities know that there is a need for menstrual products in the restrooms, but they refuse to help students.
Taylor Henry and Ashley Albert also published an article in The Whit highlighting the problem, with additional reporting by Ellie Leick.
In the article, Richard Jones, the current vice president for student engagement, said the reason they are not stocked is because students can ask for free supplies in places like the Student Center, Rec Center and Wellness Center.
He said he doesn’t want students to pay for these supplies, but why is the new solution for making period products more accessible to have tampons in vending machines for $2 for a box of two?
He goes on to say that the dispensers have not been stocked in at least five years. The problems with inventory control were another reason for keeping them out of the restrooms, but students can contact Jones with their request if they want restrooms stocked, according to The Whit article.
However, this isn’t the truth.
The truth is the dispensers have never been stocked. A former student, who was involved with SGA as an officer, sent an email at the end of 2015 to Kaila Beckam, the assistant vice president of student affairs at the time, concerning the lack of products in restrooms.
Beckam wrote, “I was told by people who previously held that position [AVP of Facilities and Operations] and a few administrators that sanitary napkins were never supplied in the bathrooms.”
“I was informed that this is a cost that would not be added to the budget simply because survey says that most people bring and supply their own sanitary napkins and do not use the ones there in public bathroom[s],” Beckam wrote. “So it is a cost that Rowan University finds unnecessary.”
Rowan University would rather spend money getting rid of machines than supplying restrooms with the necessary supplies so students and faculty don’t have to miss out on class due to unexpectedly getting their period.
I reached out to Jones, but didn’t get a response email.
I also reached out to Director of Custodial Services John Davis, who three years ago was too busy to talk to me when I tried to visit his office. He redirected me to Vice President for University Relations Jose Cardona, who then redirected me to Associate Vice President of Student Life and Interim Dean of Students Andrew Tinnin.
“The Student Government Association a few years ago worked with facilities to see whether we could continue with having supplies available in restrooms and for a variety of reasons, they decided that wasn’t sustainable because there were a few machines on campus previously, but they were frequently vandalized. There were issues with them being restocked and who was responsible with collecting the money,” Tinnin said.
However, there is no evidence that the machines were ever stocked and no one has provided proof of incidences where machines were vandalized.
“We had machines that were hit and dented and jammed and things. We also had writing on machines in the past,” Tinnin said.
If someone did hit the machine, it was likely out of frustration from the lack of period products in restrooms. It sucks when you get your period and you don’t have supplies so you have to choose between missing class time and using toilet paper, which is unsanitary.
“Not everyone who menstruates uses a women’s room, so having them in the women’s rooms wouldn’t be a viable solution either, so that’s why we have them in different facilities for students,” Tinnin said.
“I guess if there’s still existing machines, instead of the expense for removing the machine, they probably just wanted to make students aware that they are no longer stocked,” Tinnin said regarding the “not stocked” signs.
However, it feels like the signs are there because no one cares about our problems. The former student involved with SGA emailed people about this issue, four students including myself reported about this issue and now there are about 20 students who are part of Period Movement trying to resolve the issue.
How many people does it take to make administration do something?
Why does Tanvi Koduru, a sophomore entrepreneurship major and president of the Period Movement at Rowan, have to walk over two hours to each restroom, taping signs addressing the issue, only for them to be taken down and silenced? If it wasn’t for the sign in the Social Justice, Inclusion, and Conflict Resolution (SJICR) building located in Hawthorn Hall, I wouldn’t have known the Period Movement existed. We need our voices to be heard.
Tinnin thinks it would be a substantial cost to have tampons and pads available in all restrooms. Then how come the school is able to provide many great things, such as the $150,000 owl statue and $230,000 for Esports? This year, Robert Emmanuel, assistant vice president of facilities and operations for SGA, is working on getting e-scooters and Pop-up parks for Rowan.
Tuition next year is increasing by 2.5%, so why not use some money towards providing pads and tampons in restrooms?
“I’m always amazed when I look around and see all the new things they have,” Koduru said. “It’s a beautiful campus, it’s such a positive place and I’m so grateful to go here and I feel like this is just something that they’re unable to understand as a human rights issue that they can very easily address if they put the time to understand why it’s an issue and how they can improve it.”
Meet the one man who understands the problem
At the end of July, Mario Leone, an engineering technologist in the electrical and computer engineering department, went to a conference where his friend forgot to bring her emergency period supplies. That was when he first learned about the problem with lack of menstrual supplies in public spaces.
By mid-August, Leone had pads and tampons in a cabinet in the new engineering building in room 317. If Leone, who’s worked at Rowan for seven years, didn’t have a cabinet in the engineering building, students would have to walk about 15 minutes and back to the Rec Center, the nearest place with free accessible products, missing out on valuable class time.
“I’m still trying to figure out why this is my cause, but that’s okay, I don’t mind doing this,” Leone said.
He gets his supplies from The SHOP, the food pantry on campus located at the Rowan Boulevard Apartments in room 141 of building five. The SHOP is only open a few days a week, so it’s not always easy for students to get supplies. It’s difficult to calculate when someone’s period will happen next because sometimes it could come a few days early or a few days late.
“It’s a simple problem to fix. My question is, if this was an issue years ago, how come nobody solved this problem?” Leone said.
The cabinet’s top shelf was full at the end of August with menstrual supplies, and now there is half a shelf left. The cabinet is managed by his staff called the A-team, which consists of over 75 students. No one is supposed to ask questions when people open the cabinet.
Despite the small population of menstruators in the engineering building (Leone estimates about 15-20% of the engineering building population are women), this shows that there is a need for tampons and pads to be more accessible.
Leone said the cabinet is just a pilot program. Assistant Director of Volunteerism Andrew Perrone is looking at James Hall and Robinson Hall to add more supply locations, and from there they will move towards the center of campus.
One of the main problems is the lack of understanding and empathy among the majority of cis-men on campus.
“Guys put women down in this building big time. I’ve seen guys bring young ladies to tears because of what they say to them, ‘oh you’re a woman, you’re not good at engineering,'” Leone said. He’s never seen a guy grab a tampon for a woman.
“You need to get guys on your side, too. The more voices you have, the more power you’re going to have,” Leone said. “In the meantime, I’m going to run around and try to get as many tampons and pads and whatever else you need, but this is a band aid on the problem. One guy can’t possibly supply enough tampons for all the women on campus.”
Leone agrees the pads and tampons need to be inside the restrooms. He mentioned how the one pillar of Rowan’s Strategic Plan is to provide job opportunities for students and reduce student debt. One way to reduce debt is to reduce costs by doing things like providing a free textbook. Having tampons and pads free in restrooms would help reduce students’ costs.
“Some of the faculty need to have sympathy, too. If you’re having a really bad day, and you’re cramping and you can’t even focus, cut them a break — Jesus, let her go out, take the day off,” Leone said.
According to Leone’s department head, Leone’s biggest problem is he cares too much about the students.
“Get them all to squeak. That will help me get the grease,” Leone said, meaning if we get more voices to speak up, it will be easier to solve the problem. Right now, he’s working on getting items from the South Jersey Food Bank, instead of The SHOP, for 12 cents a pound. A can of soup weighs a lot more than a box of tampons, meaning he can get them for cheap.
“This is not a Rowan University problem. This is a societal problem,” Leone said.
As of September, University of Pittsburgh installed free menstrual product dispensers in 23 women’s bathrooms throughout nine different buildings, according to The Pitt News.
Delaware is working on a proposal that would require schools to provide free menstrual products and be accessible in restrooms.
Will Rowan University be the next school on the growing list of schools around the nation fighting for menstrual equality? If no one speaks out, nothing will change, and, at the very least, people will miss class because of the lack of products in restrooms.
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