IGNITE hosts “Period Packing Party” over health access concerns

Cara McCarthy / THE GATEPOST

IGNITE, a student-run women’s leadership group, hosted a “Period-Packing Party” in the CIE, providing free menstrual products after conducting a spring 2019 survey that found 73% of students were “concerned” about the price of pads and tampons.

The group also discussed the lack of education concerning women’s health and drafted campus-wide solutions to address “period poverty” at FSU.

The event occurred amid plans from the Health Center to improve healthcare access on campus by installing a “Self-Care Station” vending machine in the McCarthy Center to provide free health products for students in need. 

Junior Stephanie Bennett, president of IGNITE, defined period poverty as both financial difficulty affording period products and a difficulty in acquiring them. 

She said the group came up with the concept of the packing party after finding that in the McCarthy Center, only two of the pad/tampon dispensers worked. Neither of them distributed both pads and tampons. “It was either-or,” she said. 

“So you’re going on this wild goose chase to stop bleeding! That’s very distracting as a student, or as a faculty [member],” she said.

In IGNITE’s survey of more than 100 students, 41% of respondents said dispensers were out of operation in public restrooms on campus. Additionally, 90% of students believed they should not have to pay for tampons and pads, which cost 25 cents from the campus dispensers, according to the survey.  

Senior Erin Johnson, vice president of IGNITE, said the responses to the survey were “kind of shocking.” She added many college students have financial pressures that can make it difficult to afford sanitary products. “I feel like the broke college kid trope is pretty prevalent,” she said.

According to an IGNITE Facebook post, the lack of access to period products reflects “overwhelming financial insecurity.”

Sophomore Rachel Spivey, IGNITE secretary, said she was further inspired to bring period reform to FSU after a friend from the University of New England successfully campaigned to have the university provide free pads and tampons. 

Spivey said she hopes to make women suffering with period poverty “feel a little less isolated.”

At their meeting, IGNITE members discussed other issues with women’s reproductive and sexual health education.

Sophomore Beta Cojocaru expressed concern about sexual education in public schools. “We watched a video from the 90s, and that’s the only thing we got,” she said. “Public schools need to bring more education to what’s happening to your body.”

Spivey elaborated on Cojocaru’s point, discussing a lack of education about birth control side effects and medical reactions. “I had to go to urgent care because of side effects [from birth control],” she said. 

Junior Alex Backer, IGNITE treasurer, said there was a dearth of scientific research about women’s health, such as side effects from different means of birth control. He said historically “women were used as guinea pigs,” suffering severe reactions due to a lack of prior research.

He said it was important men educate themselves about women’s issues. “I grew up around guys – no one talked about periods or vaginas.

Backer added, “We don’t necessarily talk about periods at all. It’s a taboo topic, and I’m surprised more people wouldn’t speak out about it on a campus that’s so open.” 

Bennett said there can be an element of “slut-shaming” in talking about periods or birth control, responding to a sexist anonymous comment on the survey. She said she went on birth control following a doctor’s recommendation to help prevent cancer risk factors – something a slut-shaming narrative overlooks.

She stressed the importance of allyship and spreading knowledge about the issue. “Awareness – that’s what the party’s for,” she said. “It’s not for, ‘Here, here’s your free products.’ It’s for, ‘Let’s bring awareness to this. Let’s start a conversation at our meeting,’ and maybe some faculty will take notice and start advocating for students themselves.”

Bennett said shutting down conversations about periods “just because it makes you feel uncomfortable isn’t an option.” 

She added students dealing with period poverty can message IGNITE on social media to have members deliver menstrual products directly to their dorm rooms. She said she is also discussing plans with SDAs to provide better access to menstrual products in dorms.

Sophomore Selena Cheehy, secretary of M.I.S.S., said at the event the group plans to coordinate with IGNITE to co-host future projects and initiatives to advance missions of women’s empowerment and diversity. 

Ilene Hofrenning, director of the Health Center, said it currently offers free tampons and pads from baskets in the bathrooms of the building and at the Rams Resource Center, but added many students weren’t aware of the services provided.

She said the stigma surrounding menstruation can prevent students from coming for help at the Health Center. “Girls and women are made to feel embarrassed or ashamed to talk about their periods,” she said.

Hofrenning also discussed the upcoming “Self-Care Station,” a vending machine that will provide free medical products to students to improve healthcare access. In addition to providing pads and tampons, she said it will include cold, sleep, and stress “kits,” as well as condoms and over-the-counter painkillers, free of cost to students. 

She said it will have a “grand opening” in October. It will be located in the alcove near the stairwell on the third floor of the McCarthy Center.

Hofrenning said expenses for the machine will come out of the Health Center budget and staff will put the kits together themselves, which will reduce costs. 

“The [Rams Resource Center] is open limited hours, so most of what you would get there would be something you would pick up to have on hand to use at a later time,” she said. “The Self-Care Station is to provide a one-time dose for a current need – i.e. pain reliever for a headache, decongestant for a cold, [or] menstrual products if your period started unexpectedly.”

Virginia Rutter, a sociology professor who studies gender inequality, said issues of period stigma and inequality have wide-ranging historical and religious precedent. “The Bible calls women unclean,” she said.   

“The thing about period equity and period poverty is that every single woman understands this term instantly,” she said. “And yet, speaking as a woman in my 50s, it’s a relatively new thing in the past decade that it’s getting researched and studied and organized around.”

She said the issue was exacerbated by male-dominated politics that failed to take women’s concerns into account, such as a “pink tax” on period products across multiple states which does not include Massachusetts. “Cupcakes are tax-free, but tampons are not in these states,” she said.

Rutter said the conversation began to shift alongside the “Our Bodies, Ourselves” movement of the 1970s, which aimed to educate women about their anatomy and bodily processes. She said young people are beginning to change attitudes and reduce the stigma about women’s bodies.

“Conversations are always slower to catch up with the younger generation, because the people running the conversations are older, and they’re looking backwards,” she said.

“But I think that conversations are getting better,” she added.

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