Three years after the reboot of Free Period Products, a 2016 program to offer free menstrual products across campus, several community organizations have continued to expand this goal by advocating for and providing these resources.
Members of the Gender Justice Advocacy Coalition and Student Assembly Infrastructure Fund Commission comprise the FPP team. Through a partnership with Cornell facilities, FPP has been able to make free menstrual products available in public women’s, men’s and all-gender bathrooms across campus.
“The impetus behind the initiative is simple,” GJAC president Clara Drimmer ’22 wrote in an email to The Sun. “Toilet paper is free in any public bathroom. Why shouldn’t period products be free for all people who need them?”
Drimmer said that historically, cost is one of the largest barriers to menstrual product access worldwide. She noted that the average menstruator spends thousands of dollars on period products throughout their lifetime.
“A lot of people are becoming aware of the pink tax and how gender-related menstrual products are overpriced with respect to people who identify as women, and that is an economic justice issue,” said Joseph Mullen ’24, vice president of internal operations on the Student Assembly.
Free menstrual products reached all public bathrooms on Cornell’s campus in 2020. According to Drimmer, FPP is in the process of changing their signage, switching “mxnstrual” to “menstrual,” recognizing that menstruation is not a strictly gendered term.
“As of 2017, they had put menstrual products in women’s and gender-neutral bathrooms on campus,” Mullen said. “In 2020, they decided to put them in all bathrooms on campus, and the rationale behind that was that regardless of how people identify biologically or gender-wise, everybody should get access to these products.”
Ellie Month ’21, the previous SAIFC chair, said she has seen a major shift in public attitude toward menstruation in the time since the initial reboot of FPP.
“The thought of having menstrual products in all bathrooms was really taboo for the University,” Month said.
In the 2020-2021 school year, FPP provided at least 126,000 tampons, 70,000 pads and 33,600 liners across Cornell’s campus. Despite this success, according to Drimmer, they’ve had a harder time securing long-term funding for continued free menstrual products.
Without this funding, free menstrual products might not be around for the long run.
“FPP has yet to find a way to fund the program long term through University budgetary avenues, including the new $5 billion campaign ‘to do the greatest good,’” Drimmer said. “If we cannot find a permanent funding source, these products will likely disappear by the end of the spring semester.”
The Women’s Health Initiative is another organization that strives to aid and raise awareness around women’s health. Co-presidents Sophia Mathews ’22 and Sydney Flannigan ’22 described their work to alleviate the financial pressures caused by menstruation for community members.
The Women’s Health Initiative is currently holding its period drive, which has run throughout every semester since the organization’s start in the spring of 2018, donating pads and tampons to St. John’s Homeless Shelter in Ithaca. Students are able to donate any menstrual product by dropping them off in the labeled cardboard boxes located in certain bathrooms on campus.
“Shelters are always looking for various hygiene products, whether it’s toothbrushes, deodorant, shampoo, pads or tampons,” Flannigan said. “It’s something that they always need. On our part, it’s relatively easy to do, and it was a really great way for us to get involved in the community and help people who need it.”
The Women’s Resource Center also offers free menstrual products to students. Located on the second floor of Willard Straight Hall within the Office of the Dean of Students, the center is open weekdays from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. The WRC provides additional services such as information on various health topics, opportunities to get involved in community service and CHAT THAT, a series of conversations that address gender-related topics.
“As any institution who cares about the wellbeing of their community, but especially an educational institution that serves so many people, it is vital that Cornell offers free and public menstrual products to its students, faculty and staff,” Drimmer wrote.