Chief Photographer & Herald Staff
If you’ve used any of the bathrooms in the library, Scandling Center, Stern Hall, or many other buildings, then you’ve probably noticed the containers with a bold “Aunt Flo” label and array of menstrual products free to the public. Around midway through this semester, the menstrual product pilot project was implemented after William Smith’s first-year Class President Nuzhat Wahid’s efforts to push it forward through William Smith Congress and Hobart Student Government. The Herald discussed with Wahid the process of putting this project into effect as well as how it has been received by the student body.
According to Wahid, there was an attempt last semester to push for the availability of menstrual products, but the success came after her proposal following her election to WSC. “I do think that there has been a long, lasting need for them,” Wahid told the paper in regard to the necessity of the products on campus.
Her proposal saw little objection, with WSC and HSG working in tandem to figure out the best methods for dispersion and budgeting. Working with Kristen Tobey of Student Activities, Wahid looked at the NY6 colleges’ models for menstrual hygiene products, asking them about their method of dispersing the products throughout their campuses, and then reached out to the company Aunt Flo to obtain the products. “We then had to identify what were the most used buildings on campus, how much this would cost, how much product we need,” Wahid told the Herald. The success of this project came to be, according to Wahid, because of the coordination between WSC and HSG and those who contributed to the project. “Everyone was just automatically on board with the idea,” she said. “It’s about the concept of equity for students.”
Wahid described the availability of the products as a “biological need” that all students should have access to, though many do not. “By bringing them to campus, it opened a door for educating people as well as expanding the concepts of inequity and inequality when it comes to these things,” she said when discussing the conversations that surrounded this project. One of the approaches that Wahid took when creating the proposal was to address the inequitable implications behind menstrual products. “Minimum wage in Geneva is $10.50,” Wahid told the Herald. She took this information and compared it to the costs of the five most-used tampon and pad brands, finding that “the least expensive was $7, the most expensive was $10.” Next to the minimum wage, Wahid claimed “that is a good hour of work right there.” She used this data to emphasize the inequity of this “biological need,” and was ultimately successful in pushing forth the pilot project, finding immense support from the school and student governments. Challenges only began to emerge when it came to the logistics of the project.
“I think the biggest barrier was figuring out both time and distribution,” Wahid said. A sense of urgency seemed important to get the products in bathrooms for students to use. She worked to calculate the exact amount needed in each building, how many products are taken, and how often to replace them. Both WSC and HSG have been working to ensure the availability to all students — this includes placing the products in both male and female bathrooms, as well as any all-gender bathrooms.
“It wasn’t even a question for us,” Wahid said about putting the products in all bathrooms, regardless of gender. “In order to pursue the concept of being acceptive and inclusive,” Wahid stressed the idea of “working for students who identify with the gender binary and those who don’t.” The process saw little pushback, but there have been some seemingly reactionary actions after its implementation. “Someone had taken [the basket] and put it in the female bathroom,” Wahid said. She didn’t want to make assumptions about why it was moved, however.
Students have also seen reactions on social media, with a recent Instagram post from @barstoolhobart stirring discussion about the products being in all bathrooms. The post depicted a male student walking into the bathroom and gesturing toward the products, his caption only being “Oh.” The post sparked controversy and was later taken down. When asked about this post, Wahid told the Herald, “It really didn’t matter.” She then went on to say, “It being transphobic is a very big concern and is something that needs to be addressed more, but I think that person’s viewpoint … really didn’t matter.” Wahid focused on the students that benefit from the project instead, saying: “The people that are impacted positively and need this product are more important than the backlash that we will receive.”
“This program … breaks that boundary and opens doors to pursue further conversation,” Wahid said. The future of this project is unclear, but it is clear that students think that Wahid and the student governments should work to expand the products’ availability. “One of the things that a student brought up to me … is expanding the product to the arts campus and the science buildings.” Funding is also a point of discussion, with Wahid hoping that “it transforms into something that is not a project, but something that the Colleges are required to undertake.” Since the project is only in its pilot form, there is not yet a “stable understanding” for how the money will be allocated in the future, as well as how extensive it can become in the future as a student-led project.
As a final point, Wahid wanted to ensure that students are aware of the open discussion available at student government meetings. “If any student has any concerns, WSC and HSG are there for you to present those concerns to,” she said. “We love to work on projects, we love to work on initiating change that students want.”