The Case for Free Tampons at YU
Pizza, toilet paper and swag. Why are they free at Yeshiva University?
Pizza at club events is free because it enhances student life, toilet paper is free because it’s a sanitation essential, and swag is free because it fosters school pride. Simply put, our university provides us with these items either because it is impractical to expect students to purchase them, or because it deems them worthwhile investments. With Brown, Columbia, Emory and many more American universities now beginning to supply free tampons in their bathrooms, we should evaluate whether YU should give it a try. Would it be practical to facilitate better access to tampons on campus? And would free tampons be a worthwhile investment for our university?
About half of YU undergraduate students are female and 86% of female adults have unexpectedly gotten a period in public without menstrual supplies. Typically, students purchase and pack their own tampons because doing so is a personal responsibility. A practical problem only arises when a student is unable to access her own tampons nor accessibly buy one, since this leaves her in a position of discomfort and diminished dignity. If she finds herself unexpectedly unequipped on the Beren campus, she must either wait until a friend with a tampon shows up, exit the building and trek to a pharmacy or dorm, or test the consistently empty tampon dispenser.
The accessibility of all of these options is even lower on Wilf since fewer women frequent the campus, a pharmacy is further away, and many bathrooms do not have tampon dispensers. I tested out nearly all of the dispensers on Beren and those that I knew of on Wilf, but surprisingly found that not one single tampon dispenser actually contained any tampons. The empty Beren dispensers all have buttons marked “FREE,” while some of the empty Wilf dispensers have slots for dime payment.
Conducting an unplanned wild goose chase for menstrual supplies also takes time. Just search “tampons” in the Facebook group “Stern College: In the Know” to see several posts from students seeking them during class. One exasperated Facebook commenter on Beren summed up: “How can I not find a single tampon in an ALL GIRLS SCHOOL?” The inaccessibility of tampons across campuses has proven to be an academic and social disruption.
I am not suggesting that we get carried away here. Aren’t these students simply too forgetful to pack what they need, or too shortsighted to plan for the biologically unpredictable? Do we owe each one a Nobel Prize for engineering her own discomfort? Do we owe free pencils to forgetful note takers and free Golan to the spontaneously hungry for chicken? Obviously not; university funds are limited. But tampons are a basic sanitation need akin to the free toilet paper on campus, and although YU is only societally expected to supply the latter, as a university it should go beyond this expectation.
At absolute minimum, YU should install tampon dispensers in more of its bathrooms and actually stock them with tampons for purchase. Even with that improvement though, the problem of inaccessibility would persist since tampons in dispensers would remain locked away from coin-less students. The reality is that for tampons to be reliably accessible to students unexpectedly in need, YU will need to make its tampons figuratively and monetarily free.
Practicalities aside, YU already religiously and academically acknowledges the period. Stern offers courses on hilchot niddah, YC teaches reproductive biology, RIETS studies Masechet Niddah, and Einstein conducts hormonal research. Tampons would be a worthwhile investment for our university because it is ideologically inconsistent to teach respect for the laws of niddah and biology, yet ignore the mitigable indignity of having a period while unequipped on campus. At a university rooted in both Torah and Madda, investing in maintaining the dignity of students experiencing their periods is a matter of institutional responsibility.
Improved tampon access is an attainable reality for which female YU students have already tried advocating behind closed doors. It’s a reality for which I also wanted to privately advocate. Instead, I am suggesting it in a public forum because I think that unless tampon access is publicly discussed and supported by YU students, it is unrealistic—and perhaps even unfair—to expect our administrators to monetarily invest in its improvement.
So assuming that our university decides to conduct a free tampon trial, how much would it cost YU to try supplying free tampons? The University of Chicago recently conducted a monthlong trial for only $75. That would be a modest cost for an initiative that could greatly benefit about half of our student body. We should spare some university dollars, test the logistics of a free tampon supply for students unexpectedly in need, and gather student feedback to assess its practicality.
Let’s go ahead and give this free tampon thing a try.