On the first day of classes, a long-awaited initiative came to fruition – free menstrual products are now accessible in all bathrooms.
With a wave of products becoming more accessible across the country, Cornell has joined a movement that has gained traction worldwide — Scotland became the first country to supply free period products in schools and universities in 2018.
Spearheaded by Elise Czuchna ’18, a member of the Gender Justice Advocacy Coalition, the initiative originally placed the products only in women and gender neutral bathrooms.
“We wanted to make access to the products as equitable as possible and have them present in all bathrooms, as not all people who menstruate are women,” Liz Davis-Frost grad, former president of GJAC, wrote to The Sun.
According to Davis-Frost, people who menstruate spend nearly $18,000 in a lifetime on period products, incurring a large cost and raising issues of accessibility.
As a current graduate student, Davis-Frost is pursuing a Master of Public Administration with a concentration in human rights and social justice, a decision encouraged by the “intersectional lens” GJAC prompted her to see the world through. For Davis-Frost, the project was a way to practically address issues of equity and accessibility in the framework of gender inequality.
“I was born and raised in Alabama. Before coming to Cornell, I was not exposed to about three quarters of the topics that GJAC discusses as an organization or really any of the issues I learned about in my social sciences coursework as an undergraduate,” she wrote. “Being a member of GJAC was really fundamental in establishing my passions and interests — especially regarding the topic of gender justice.”
With the tripartite support of Building Care and Facilities, the Women’s Resource Center and the Student Assembly Infrastructure Fund Committee, the project launched.
Davis-Frost also noted the collective effort of Naiara Bezerra-Gastesi ’21, Uche Chukwukere ’21 and Clara Drimmer ’22 who all were instrumental to the process.
“At the beginning, figuring out exactly who to talk to about getting the project off the ground was a struggle,” Liz-Frost said. However, as the process continued, she was able to gather expertise from different individuals.
Before COVID-19, the launch was set to take place at the Period Gala — a celebratory event hosted by the Women’s Resource Center — which was organized by Reem Abdalla ’20 and interns at WRC for March 12.
Noting the economic devastation caused by COVID-19, Davis-Frost said it has “has disproportionately impacted communities of color and low-income communities” which means “that access to period products, regardless of income status, is only more essential.”
While the project has been launched on the first day of classes, Davis-Frost is concerned with the longevity of the program due to the funding of the program, which was initially spearheaded by the Student Assembly Infrastructure Funding Committee.
“My hope is that the university sees this program as essential and necessary for menstruators on this campus to, regardless of economic status, work and thrive to the best of their ability without having to worry about their periods and related costs,” she said.“These conversations and realities are not new to many communities and folks within gender activist areas.”
Davis-Frost hopes that the project raises awareness about the cost of period products and lack of accessibility, not only to students but to the University and “uplift the voices of those who have experienced difficulty accessing period products.”
“In an ideal world, free period products would be supplied in all organizations and institutions — not just Cornell,” Davis-Frost wrote. “I want to encourage people on campus, alumni, and community members to advocate for free period products in the institutions and businesses that they engage with.
Correction, Oct. 18, 11:42 p.m.: A previous version of this story referred to GJAC as the Gender Justice Advocacy Center; it is the Gender Justice Advocacy Coalition. It has since been updated.