Menstrual Equity Initiative at UH Hilo Enters its First Phase

By Lichen Forster

Last fall, UH Hilo students Hannah Blue and Allison Dupre met when they were both orientation leaders, and soon realized they shared a dream for menstrual equity on campus.

“I found out that she [Dupre] ran the Women’s Center,” Blue said. “I told her, ‘Hey, I have this idea where I want to try to get free period product dispensers inside the bathrooms on campus.’ And she was like, ‘Oh my God, I’ve been wanting to do that, but I just had no idea how.’ And so I said, ‘I have the how.’”

At the time, Blue was the data director for UHHSA, privy to the inner workings of student government and the steps needed to get a project of their size off the ground. When COVID-19 had hit the previous semester, UHHSA members were tasked with brainstorming a project to continue serving and showing up for UH Hilo students. Blue decided to put together “period packs” — interested students filled out a Google form, and were mailed a month’s supply of period products. In the following semester, surveys showed that students were still interested in the program, which got Blue thinking.

“I said, ‘I’d love to make this a semesterly thing, because they aren’t widely available on campus,’” Blue said. “Which got me thinking: ‘why aren’t they widely available on campus?’” “[Our restrooms] lack the essentials for people who menstruate,” Dupre said. “There are no proper disposal units for period products inside the individual stalls, which result in people having to carry their products to the semi-public trash can, which can be uncomfortable for most people. Moreover, access to period products is almost nonexistent as the current coin-operated machines are old and outdated and oftentimes broken.”

This leaves the only places on campus to access period products being the Women’s Center and Medical Services, which hold supplies for in-person pickup.

A calculator built by medical student Dominika Miszewska and biophysics student Julia Żuławińska (both located in Poland), estimates menstruating people spend $9 per month on period products. This amounts to approximately $2,000 in a person’s lifetime, and that figure doesn’t include other expenses like painkillers for menstrual cramps and replenishing underwear.

“We're socialized to think that this is something that we should be providing for ourselves,” Blue said. “And I think a lot of us are lucky enough where it's not a huge worry or financial burden on us, but at the end of the day it’s a gender equity issue...other hygiene items like toilet paper and soap are provided for free. But period products aren’t often prioritized as basic needs, even though they are definitely a basic need.”

Blue and Dupre spent the 2020-2021 school year discussing, planning, and submitting proposals, and by the time Blue was elected to be the 2021-2022 UHHSA president in May, they were ready to move forward. They just needed funding.

“With all of our unspent money at the end of last year we had to submit a memo, which detailed plans for that money,” Blue said. “Usually, it rolls into your next year’s budget, but since the school is in debt they were going to keep any unspent money that had no plans of being spent.”

After submitting research and student feedback showing the benefits and needs of the project, Blue was able to secure most of that money (in total $32,000) for the new ‘Menstrual Equity Initiative at UH Hilo,’ as the project was titled. This budget will work towards getting the first set of supplies installed. After that, Auxiliary Services will take over funding, with possible help from UHHSA where needed. Along with restocking supplies, Auxiliary Services will also be in charge of installation.

The initiative will supply bathrooms in an order of priority:

Phase 1: High traffic women’s restrooms and gender neutral restrooms

Phase 2: Lower traffic women’s restrooms and gender neutral restrooms, and housing & resident bathrooms

Phase 3: High traffic men’s restrooms

Allison DupreAllison Dupre

Blue and Dupre found it important in their planning stages that they support all possible populations, hence the inclusion of gender neutral and men’s bathrooms in the initiative.

“We want to be inclusive to the non-binary and transgender community, as they are often left out of menstrual advocacy,” Dupre said.

Phase one is currently underway, and Blue predicts it will be finished by the end of November. Her plan is to have all three phases completed by the time she and Dupre graduate in May 2022.

Pending approval from Campus Center, supplies will be purchased from “Aunt Flow,” a company that sells period products to businesses and schools. Their dispensers are designed to be used for free, and their pads and tampons also fit with the goals of the initiative.

“It’s an UHHSA effort to be [as] environmentally conscious and sustainable as possible,” Blue said. “This company uses biodegradable products made with organic cotton, no synthetic rayons or dyes, which also keeps in mind the health and safety of students.”

Please do not flush period products infographic

What would this look like at UH Hilo infographic

Menstrual Equity Initiative signage inforgraphic