UMass Dartmouth begins pilot program providing free period products

Feb 11, 2023

UMass Dartmouth has entered a new period for menstrual rights.

Students and staff at the university can find new amenities available in some of its bathrooms: free menstrual product dispensers thanks to a new program launched late last month.

The initiative, called the “Menstrual Access Pilot Program” is a collaboration between the university’s Center for Women, Gender and Sexuality and Student Government Association.

Products are supplied from Aunt Flow, a woman-owned business which manufactures biodegradable cotton pads and tampons. 

The cost of installations was $5,000, with funds being appropriated from student service fees, noted Zoi Burns, the chair of the Student Government Association’s Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Committee.

“Not too bad of a price,” Burns said.

Similar efforts were launched last year by schools like Brandeis, Boston, Tufts, and Northeastern universities, along with Stonehill College.

Dispensers at UMass Dartmouth were officially installed in late January inside the bathrooms at the Campus Center, a spot Burns was a logical place to start since it's the most frequented building on campus.

Dr. Juli Parker, the Assistant Dean of Students and Director of the CWGS, said the idea for the initiative came about during her time as a board chair for the New Bedford YWCA — which implemented a similar program in 2018.

This was part of a larger push of fighting “period poverty” across the state through the “I Am Bill.” 

The bill, which was recently introduced for its third straight legislative session, would provide free menstrual products in K-12 schools, homeless shelters, prisons, and all state buildings. Legislation was unanimously passed by the state senate last March, but was never picked up by the State House.

Guaranteeing access to period products, Parker said, would better attendance among menstruating students.

According to the Massachusetts chapter of the National Organization for Women, 56% of school nurses across the commonwealth have reported students missing class in order to obtain menstrual products.

Along with lack of immediate access, Parker said that getting tampons and pads can be rather costly.

“They’re not cheap, that’s for sure,” she said.

Additionally, having this program on campus can allow for the destigmatization of conversations around periods and normalize the need for period products, Parker said.

“We should think of tampons and pads the way we think of toilet paper,” she said. “Nobody is expected to bring their own toilet paper to work every day, that would be weird.”

Currently, the free menstrual product dispensers are in all 11 of the Campus Center’s bathrooms, which include women’s, men’s, and gender-neutral facilities.

“It’s not only women who menstruate,” Burns said, referring to the fact that a percentage of transgender men can continue to have periods despite being on testosterone, along with those who have not taken any form of hormone treatment.

Many non-binary people also deal with periods. 

“We just want to make sure we’re equal to everybody,” Parker said.

As Parker and Burns work to expand the project, they’re next goal is to expand services to the Claire T. Carney Library, a building Burns noted “sees a lot of activity,” much like the Campus Center. 

For any future expansion, Parker and Burns hope that they can get allocations from the university itself and are currently working on a proposal for the upcoming UMass budget.

Eventually, the plan is to have dispensers in all university buildings and, ideally, across the commonwealth and nation.

“Having it everywhere just makes sense,” Burns said.