98.3 percent — the number of Vanderbilt student respondents to a recent survey who support the university providing free menstrual products on campus. On Thursday, January 30th, more than 120 Vanderbilt students gathered to watch a screening of the Academy Award-winning mini documentary Period. End of Sentence. and to discuss period poverty in Nashville with panelists Charity Brock and Judy Robinson. The event was sponsored by the Provost’s Women’s AdVancement and Equity (WAVE) Council, the VSG Health & Wellness Committee, and the Margaret Cuninggim Women’s Center Period Task Force, a group trying to fight period stigmas and increase access to free menstrual products on campus.
Period. End of Sentence. follows a community of women in Hapur, India as they start a business creating low-cost menstrual pads. Only 10% of women in India use sanitary pads as a result of their high cost and the taboos surrounding menstruation, so the women’s business starts an important conversation for local girls and provides affordable access to menstrual products.
But period poverty is not just an issue in developing countries: it’s happening right here in Nashville. As many as 1 in every 5 girls in the United States has missed school or left early due to lack of access to period products. Following the screening of the documentary, panelists Charity Brock (co-founder of On the Dot, a Nashville initiative that supplies period essentials to young people) and Judy Robinson (a Vanderbilt graduate who works with the Nashville Metro School District’s Community School Initiatives to provide period products to 36 public schools) discussed period poverty in Nashville.
Period products can be expensive, especially for those experiencing homelessness and poverty. Menstrual products are considered “luxury” items in Tennessee, which means they can’t be bought through SNAP or WIC welfare programs. Even when young girls do have access to the products, their lack of education regarding menstruation means they might not even know that their periods come at the same time every month. Moreover, truancy regulations mean that children who miss too much school are assigned a Nashville Metro Police Probation Officer, and can even spend time in juvenile detention. “The more in poverty you are, the more barriers there are for getting to school,” Robinson explained, and inaccessible menstrual products are just another barrier low-income children face.
Period poverty is also an issue on Vanderbilt’s campus. “There are students at Vanderbilt who are experiencing period poverty right now,” said Amanda Youman, who founded the Vanderbilt Period Task Force in October 2019. “Period poverty has many layers of inclusivity: gender inclusivity, economic inclusivity, health inclusivity… This is an issue that affects people who menstruate across the world. People don’t realize how bad it is in the US and in Nashville specifically. Many people assume that students at Vanderbilt don’t experience period poverty, but there are students right now who cannot afford menstrual products and are missing class because of it.”
From January 27-31, The Vanderbilt Period Task Force and the Provost’s Women’s AdVancement and Equity (WAVE) Council administered a survey to assess student interest in receiving free menstrual products around campus. Many other top-tier universities, such as Brown, Columbia, and Northwestern provide menstrual products in bathrooms across campus, free of charge. The survey received 1207 responses, 81.5% of which were from people who menstruate. The survey showed that 82.6% of students at Vanderbilt who have a period have gotten it unexpectedly on campus, and did not have a product with them. Of those, 55.6% have had to arrive late to class, work, or an extracurricular activity as a result of not having a menstrual product, while 16.5% had to miss the event entirely. When experiencing an unexpected period, Vanderbilt students felt stressed out (89%), annoyed (82%), panicked (66%), and embarrassed (62%).
More importantly, 54% of students at Vanderbilt who have a period said they had been stressed out about paying for menstrual products. A quarter have tried to use a pad or tampon dispenser on campus and it hasn’t worked. Students have had to buy entirely new packs of pads or tampons at Munchie Mart when they only needed one.
All in all, 98.3% of survey respondents said that Vanderbilt should provide free menstrual products. The Vanderbilt Period Task Force will continue to work to make this a reality.
For more information about the Vanderbilt Period Task Force, contact Amanda Youman at [email protected].