Tampons. Pads. Liners. These are things you wouldn’t find in Cogswell restrooms until late December 2016. Nearly a year after the college's relocation, a basket appeared in the women's bathroom closest to the Dragon’s Den. The basket contained two types of pads and one type of tampon, and was to be filled once a semester.
Dean of Students Brittany Bogle put the basket together and was the sole person responsible for its maintenance. When asked about the origin the the products, Bogle explained the first batch of products was just a sample package sent to the school, the second batch was donated by a student and after seeing that this clearly was a need, she set aside a portion of the Student Life budget and started providing products directly from Cogswell.
In an interview with Ken Banks, CFO and Interim CEO, he asserted that lack of available products was largely influenced by poor communication between students, faculty, and staff. Banks stated, “The communication channels and how things come from the top down and the bottom up are not as efficient as we would like them to be…”
When asked why this necessity wasn’t already being provided from the moment we arrived at the new campus, Banks stated that “[it was] no more than probably an oversight…I mean I don’t have a good answer. You would tend to think that it was the same people that were taking care of it there, that would be taking care of it here…”
The solution to this oversight was implemented on Tuesday, October 31, 2017. The school’s plan was to add another basket, taking the responsibility out of the Student Life Department and into the Facilities Department, ensuring constant maintenance.
It was easy to miss the absence of hygiene products since throughout my life, tampons/pads were never provided. During my middle school years they were never provided. During my high school years there was nothing in the bathrooms. In public restrooms, there are sometimes vending machines that require you to pay, but never anything freely provided. I always knew I had to provide them myself. If I ever forgot one, I would either hope one of my girlfriends had a spare, or I would have to MacGyver something in order to get through the day.
Although Cogswell’s basket system isn’t perfect, being put in a situation where it is finally provided in some capacity inspired a feeling of “Whoa, why isn't this provided everywhere?” I realized the basket offers so much more than the rest of the world when it comes to providing free feminine hygiene products. Even though it’s just ONE basket in ONE bathroom, it is still providing SOMETHING.
I am aware that it's a positive thing overall. I like the basket. I use it when I'm on my period, but once it empties that's it. We have to wait for it to be replenished. As mentioned above, it only gets refilled once a semester; that’s once every four to five months. As I hope everyone would know, periods come once a month and as the school grows, so does the population of females. The need for this basket to constantly be maintained, is a paramount.
I personally brought up this concern with faculty during a meeting between ASB and the Cogswell Executive Board this October and made the issue known. Everyone in the room seemed to be on my side. The males were eager to reassure me there will be a solution and the females were sympathetic. While verbal support was strong, it wasn’t until I began the interview process for this article (roughly a month later) that changes began to show up.
I understand the concern for many (faculty and students) is that providing more would mean people might take far more than they need, but when it comes to your period, is there such a thing as taking “more than you need?"
This concept is a gray area when it comes to the school's involvement in providing resources to students. In fact, consider the bigger picture: if people are taking handfuls at a time, there must be a reason. Do they not have the means to get their own? Can they not afford it? Are they unable to drive to get them?
On a smaller scale, if that's all the school is able to supply us with for months at a time, then we should be sparing with how often we rely on the basket. Is the school supposed to deny students this necessity? When it comes down to it, we need to favor the bigger picture. This should be a priority; if what’s currently provided represents the school’s budget per semester, then maybe we need to take a second look at the budget.
I remember a day during the first spring semester at the new campus when I didn’t have a tampon and there was nothing provided. I rushed to ASB, and luckily, a group of girls were all there at the end of the table. I remember being very embarrassed because I had to ask them out loud and because I didn’t actually have one of my own. I actually whispered it to the group and one of them said “I got you,” giving me two in case I needed another one throughout the day. I ran to the bathroom so happy, feeling like I'd just had a bonding moment. But what if there hadn't anyone around? The “solution” is one females know too well.
“When they weren’t provided I felt like 'oh man that sucks' but there’s nothing I can do about it cause I forgot a pad so now I’m just going to have to stuff toilet paper in my underwear.”
- Cogswell Student
I bet that last sentence caused some awkward feelings for some of you. Let’s discuss why.
Society has taught us from a very early age that periods are secret, inappropriate to discuss in any sort of remotely public setting. This mindset has carried beyond conversational manners. It reveals itself in how unavailable they are, how much they cost, how you buy them, even how you transport them to the bathroom. We’re taught it's cause for embarrassment. If something goes wrong, and we bleed through our clothes, it’s the end of world. People will know we’re on our period. Even as a senior in college, I get caught up in this “embarrassment” mindset to the point where I still catch myself tucking my tampon up my sleeve to go to the bathroom.
Periods are seen as a problem because we’re taught that periods are a problem. Society tells us that it’s OUR problem, and since it's our problem we have to pay for it. Not only pay for the solution, but endure a luxury tax, because having a period is clearly a luxury and our choice to be hygienic is rooted in privilege. How would males react if the college were to cease providing toilet paper or hand soap?
The problem is not the lack of resources being provided on campus; the problem is lack of concern or awareness throughout society, from all sides. With all the events going on in our world right now, it’s important to band together on issues of hygiene and health. I don’t see why this same kind of camaraderie and stigma breaking cannot be extended to period talk. While writing this and discussing this piece with my male colleagues, I came to the (somewhat obvious) realization that words like period, tampons and pads were not in their day to day vocabulary. I thought to myself, “Woah, these words are ever-present in my life, but they’re not even in yours.” It seems silly to ponder such an obvious thought, but it did strike a chord. Society shouldn't be that way. Concern for the lack of feminine hygiene products around campus shouldn’t just fall on the women, it should be a concern for everyone.