(ABC4) – There is no charge for toilet paper or hand soap in public restrooms, but there is usually a fee to purchase menstrual hygiene products.
Utah State University is the first in Utah to change the practice on campus.
Brock Hardcastle, a student and Business Senator for the College of Business at Utah State University, initiated the project after a member of his college brought up the concern to him.
“It was brought to my attention, so it is something I’m passionate about,” he says. “I have a twin sister, so thinking about empathy with her and kind of what women go through in public spaces as far as menstruation goes and just having peace of mind knowing that there are products available, was something that hit home for me and that I wanted to enact across the university.”
Menstrual hygiene products typically come in dispensers in public restrooms and cost a quarter each.
“Who carries quarters these days? Nobody carries quarters, so that in and of itself was a major change we needed to make as a university,” Dr. James Morales, Vice President for Student Affairs at Utah State University, says.
Morales works closely with student government officers, including senators like Hardcastle from various colleges on the campus.
“When Brock brought this idea to me to help sort of move it along, there were a couple of hurdles that we needed to address. I was obviously very excited about it, and whenever I see a student-lead initiative, there’s something behind these,” he says. “These are nuggets of really good work that we need to support as administrators, so that’s why I rolled up my sleeves to help move the project along.”
The initiative to provide hygiene products to students and staff who need them is about gender equity, Hardcastle says.
“For me, the reason it was important is periods are something that impact half the people in the world, and if we’re working to support gender equity in the workplace, in public spaces, I think it’s vital to make sure women have materials they need in order to feel comfortable in public areas and in social situations.”
Morales emphasizes the importance of promoting gender equity on campus.
“A female student or a female member of the community, faculty, staff, whomever- should not be at a disadvantage to a male. Let’s say two faculty are sitting in a classroom or in a meeting, and one has an emergency related to her menstrual cycle. She shouldn’t have to miss out to run home to get the products because she, for whatever reason, didn’t have to have one that day. The same goes with students in classes. They shouldn’t have to miss lectures or study groups to run home to get products on an emergency basis,” he says.
“We should have these products for them available,” Morales adds.
But what are the logistics? According to Hardcastle, the university provided funds to modify the current dispensers so that those who need to access hygiene products can turn a knob and get a tampon or pad without needing to pay a fee.
In fact, Utah State University is conducting focus groups to identify the best hygiene products to include in the dispensers for staff and students.
Currently, the project will cost the university about $600 to make the necessary changes to the dispensers and purchase hygiene products. But the cost could double or triple once it is decided which product best serves students and staff. And that is a cost the university is willing to cover.
According to Morales, the university is committed to providing funding for the initiative on an ongoing, annual basis.
“It’s important for men and women, especially when we’re trying to promote gender equity, to work together in order to achieve goals, and we’re not going to be as effective or as efficient if we’re siloed into our own spaces,” Hardcastle states. “I’m 100% for collaboration. I want to work with other people who are different from me and also help support anyone that might be facing an issue, with the expectation that if I’m facing an issue, they will have my back also.”
He says that he has received positive feedback from those at other universities working on the initiative.
“I could see this being a snowball effect where it’s going to reach lots of people,” Hardcastle says.
Morales, who regularly meets the other vice presidents of student affairs at other institutions in Utah, says he could also see this initiative taking hold in other universities across the state.
“When we broached the subject recently, they were very positive about moving forward with the initiative on their own campuses, so I think the goal of every Utah campus having this initiative moving forward is really highly likely,” he says.
Morales adds that the initiative is not about being male or female; those lines need to be done away with.
“This is about creating a caring community, and that’s what Utah State University is all about. This student-lead initiative is about a community that cares about its members and come together and solve a real need, so this is an exciting venture to move forward,” he adds.