During the most recent Columbia College Student Council meeting, President Ben Makansi announced that he would reach out to Vice President of Campus Services Scott Wright about providing free tampons to students. The Engineering Student Council quickly followed by announcing they were in partnership with CCSC and also speaking with Wright regarding free tampon distribution.
While this may seem like a peculiar addition to the average student council meeting, that these requests needed to be made indicates the University’s utter lack of support for people who menstruate—a group that includes a significant portion of the student body. Sure, I can easily find a free condom on Barnard and Columbia’s campuses, but why can’t I find a free tampon in the bathrooms in Hamilton or Milbank? Why does the administration care about my sexual protective rights, but not how I handle my monthly menstrual cycle?
Limited access to free sanitary products, along with the widely recognized “tampon tax,” is a frequently recurring topic in popular discourse regarding reproductive rights. While California may have pioneered potentially eliminating the tampon tax at the state level, many people who menstruate still lack the sufficient financial resources to frequently purchase sanitary products. And even if the sales tax is removed from these products, we must still front the cost to pay for other menstruation-related items, such as pads, DivaCups, painkillers, and birth control.
If you were to go to Duane Reade and buy a box of 36 tampons, it would cost you roughly $8. Depending on the heaviness of your menstrual flow, you could potentially end up going through one box (or even more) during your cycle. Assuming a single cycle requires one box of tampons, a person could end up spending $96 a year. And this price only holds if you assume all people just use tampons—most people will end up spending far more on other period products.
To be sure, many students can comfortably afford the supplies needed to maintain a hygienic period. Unfortunately, considering the rise in conversation about low-income students on campus and the inability to afford the Columbia lifestyle, it is evident that some students cannot afford this necessary cost. This can lead to unhygienic periods, and even free-bleeding. Without University support, many students’ typical menstrual cycle can quickly become unmanageable.
While finances and affordability are important parts of the demand for the University to supply free sanitary products, we should not end the conversation there. We must also work to deconstruct the shame associated with menstruation by discussing what we can and should do for student health on campus. Furthermore, gender solidarity is an essential part of this conversation. We need to encourage male allies to support women’s health care needs even if they may not menstruate themselves.
It seems to me that the Columbia and Barnard administrations only care about my reproductive health rights in regard to sexual activity, particularly vaginal intercourse. The Columbia community can only begin to deconstruct period shaming by stopping menstruation from being seen as a private problem and recognizing that reproductive health care does not stop at sexual protection.
To resolve the lack of support for menstrual health care, I urge Scott Wright, along with both the Columbia and Barnard administrations, to respond to CCSC and ESC’s requests by providing free and accessible sanitary products to students on campus. In addition, the student body should continue to embrace these uncomfortable conversations, particularly regarding reproductive health, to create an accommodating environment for all Columbia students.
The author is a Barnard College junior majoring in political science and minoring in history. She is a former managing editor for Bwog.
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