Wings launched the Menstrual Products Initiative (MPI) pilot program, installing free tampon and pad dispensers in eight women’s restrooms and two all-gender restrooms on Homewood Campus this February. Wings is a student group that aims to promote menstrual health and hygiene at Hopkins and in the greater Baltimore community.
The pilot program is funded by the Office of Women and Gender Resources and co-sponsored by the Office of the Dean of Student Life. The menstrual products and dispensers, located in sites such as Brody Learning Commons and the Bloomberg Center for Physics and Astronomy, are from HOSPECO, a hospital specialty company.
Five weeks into the initiative, The News-Letter sat down with the Wings founders, recent graduate Bridget Chen and senior Chanel Lee, as well as Co-Director Emily Sturm, to discuss the progress of the pilot program.
Lee voiced their desire to implement this initiative in the Office of Multicultural Affairs, the Counseling Center and HelWell.
“It would be really nice if we could expand this pilot program to all bathrooms on campus, not just the select few. That way, products can be accessible in every restroom, including male restrooms and all-gender restrooms, on campus,” they said.
According to Lee, the menstrual products have been widely used so far.
“People are using the products a lot, and volunteers have been really up to date with making sure that dispensers have enough products and making sure they’re accessible,” they said. “Overall it’s been going pretty well. People are aware of it and are supportive of the initiative.”
Chen explained that the cancellation of in-person classes until at least April 12 due to coronavirus will affect the MPI, which she said would be suspended until in-person classes resume.
She recognized that there will still be people who menstruate remaining on campus despite the cancellation of in-person classes.
“Wings acknowledges that suspending restocking could mean that there will be unmet needs in the JHU community as a result, among those including faculty and staff who continue to perform their job duties, as well as a small proportion of the student body that will remain on campus and in dorms during this suspension period,” Chen wrote in an email to The News-Letter.
Originally scheduled to end on April 20, the pilot program will now conclude during finals.
Chen mentioned that Wings has been collecting input on the MPI using an anonymous online survey. The survey is intended to gather data from people who menstruate on campus to inform product purchasing and goals for the future of the initiative.
Sturm discussed the positive feedback Wings members have been receiving.
“For the most part, the responses are either very positive or just kind of neutral. Either ‘I’m in love with this and I appreciate this’ or ‘I didn’t know about this, but it sounds cool.’ We haven’t gotten that much, if any, negative feedback,” Sturm said.
Junior Angel Zhao voiced her appreciation for the ability to give Wings her feedback.
“You can scan a QR code and if there are any problems, you can report them,” Zhao said. “They’re doing a really good job.”
Freshman Emi Ochoa also expressed her support for the initiative, but mentioned that she had only seen one dispenser on campus.
“If we could implement the dispensers in more bathrooms, they would be a really helpful tool to all menstruating people on campus,” Ochoa said.
According to Chen, the MPI has helped people who menstruate overcome certain barriers to menstrual products.
“Those include social barriers, like the stigma of carrying a pad to the bathroom, or the health and hygiene obstacles, like ‘oh I’m not using the proper products and I’m just using a toilet paper roll,’” Chen said.
Sturm mentioned the financial burdens which accompany the cost of period products. She also highlighted the peace-of-mind that having period products available in bathrooms will give to people who menstruate who live off campus and cannot run home to pick up products in between classes because of time constraints.
In an interview with The News-Letter, freshman Grace McGonagale supported the initiative, noting that menstrual products are often inaccessible to those who need them.
“If there are so many free condoms around campus, it seems unfair that we can’t have the same resources available for something that women can’t control and that happens to them every month for 30 years,” she said.
Though the MPI received lots of positive feedback, Wings has faced some challenges in the first weeks of the pilot program.
“The main problem we’ve faced is with the dispensers not dispensing,” Lee said. “We think there is something wrong with the motion-sensor system.”
Chen said it was painful to see the dispensers not functioning correctly.
“Because they’re meant for emergency situations, when menstruators on campus are saying I need a product but I don’t have one on me, we don’t want an unresponsive dispenser,” Chen said. “That’s the last thing we want for a group that is trying to bridge inaccessibility.”
The high-usage dispensers, such as the ones located in Brody and Gilman Hall, face the most problems because they have the highest frequency of users.
The Wings members discussed the steps they have taken to try and address the issues with the dispensers. Chen has met with HOSPECO as well as the facilities team at Hopkins to do a run through of these restrooms to determine troubleshooting methods for when they malfunction.
According to Chen, Wings had originally planned to use dispensers from Aunt Flow, a company that has introduced sustainable dispensers at dozens of other universities. In February, Lee stated that Facilities told Wings that HOSPECO would be more affordable in the long run.
For now, Sturm said, Wings volunteers have started putting products in baskets on top of dispensers with faulty sensors.
“At the end of the day that’s our goal, just to provide people with products, whether it’s with this high tech dispenser or just in a basket,” she said.
Despite pausing the initiative for the coming weeks, Wings members still have many goals for the future of the MPI. Sturm discussed the environmental impact of the initiative.
“While it’s great that we have free and available products, in the future I would like to see more sustainable products,” Sturm said.
Chen hopes to push for environmentally conscious products in the future.
In addition, Sturm emphasized that the initiative will continue to support all people who menstruate on campus, regardless of their gender.
Chen added that there are two all-gender restrooms on campus which already have dispensers, though the goal is to expand this to all restrooms.
“Wings has been trying to be as much of an ally to people who don’t identify as a woman but still menstruate or the other way around,” she said. “We’re working really hard to push forward trans allyship.”