Periods are decidedly unpleasant for a number of reasons; on top of feeling like your uterus is clenched in the fist of a vengeful higher power, the cost of buying tampons, pads, or whatever method you use to stem the red tide adds up quickly. This week, however, it was announced that Brown University would start offering free tampons and pads in its bathrooms — including men's and gender inclusive restrooms, because not everyone who gets a period identifies as a woman.
According to the Washington Post, the initiative is student-run; Brown's Undergraduate Council of Students (UCS) came up with the idea months ago and implemented it on Sept. 7, the first day of classes for the fall semester. The name-brand tampons and pads will be available in non-residential buildings across the campus, and the council says they will restock supplies once a week. In a letter sent out to students on Tuesday, UCS Vice President Viet Nguyen wrote, "In the long term, we are optimistic that this program will be institutionalized. We will also be working with the University to eventually expand sanitary disposal bins to men’s restrooms as well."
Nguyen went on to note that the effort is designed to be inclusive of transgender students, which is why the products will be available in all bathrooms rather than just women's. "We... hope to set a more inclusive standard for this issue moving forward, both in terms of the language used and how future initiatives will be implemented, keeping in mind that menstruation is experienced by more than just those who identify as women and that not all people who identify as women menstruate," the letter reads.
Brown appears to be one of the first universities to offer free menstrual products, but Nguyen told the Post that the UCS has received numerous calls from other institutions interested in implementing similar programs. The move is the latest in a series of initiatives intended to make the lives of people who menstruate easier this year. In July, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio signed legislation making free menstrual products available in all the city's public schools, jails, and shelters, and in August, the California Senate passed a bill removing the sales tax from menstrual products.
This tax is often known as the "tampon tax," which has been widely discussed for more than a year at this point. Many states classify menstrual products as luxury items rather than necessities like food or medicine, and as such, they're subject to a higher tax. Assemblywoman Cristina Garcia, who introduced the bill removing California's tax, told the Los Angeles Times that she estimates women in the state pay more than $20 million in taxes on menstrual products each year, on top of the cost of the products themselves. When someone is already struggling to make ends meet, this is more than just an annoyance; it's a financial burden.
"Why aren't these products treated the same way as other products we hand out, like toilet paper?" Nguyen said in a statement to the Associated Press. "It's a necessity, rather than a luxury, so Brown and other universities should treat them as such." He added that he hoped the university would eventually step in and take over the program's cost.
Fortunately, some states have eliminated the tampon tax entirely, and other universities hopefully will follow Brown's example. In the meantime, it's safe to say the lives of menstruating students at Brown just became a little easier — if life at an Ivy League school could ever be called easy.