URI Student Senate Starts Programs to Combat Period Poverty; Provide Free Menstrual Products on Campus

The University of Rhode Island’s Student Senate will be implementing a program next year to distribute free menstrual products on campus.

Michael Bentley, Student Senate’s Campus Affairs Chair, organized the program to get these free menstrual products.

Former Senator Tim Berard first pitched the idea at a Student Senate meeting last year. Berard, now graduated and taking a gap year before grad school, is happy that the current Senate has taken up the initiative. 

“I think it’s amazing,” Berard said. “It’s definitely needed.”

Berard first started looking at the issue with fellow student Fiona Greenough, who he credits for researching the issue before he knew about it. With Greenough’s help, Berard submitted a free menstrual products bill last year. 

He pointed out that Brown University, as well as some other universities, already have similar programs providing menstrual products for free. According to Greenough, state universities such as the University of Wisconsin and the University of New Mexico have started similar programs as well. Berard said that he and Greenough were making progress on the bill and were talking with Health Services before the COVID-19 pandemic began.

“I showed [Greenough] the bill before I had submitted it, and she was incredibly helpful,” Berard said. “We were communicating with the same vendors on the same stuff. We got talking with the head of Health Services, but then unfortunately COVID happened.”

Bentley took up the bill in Berard’s stead and implemented it with the support of the Student Senate.

Menstrual products will be available in the Memorial Union starting next year, according to Bentley.

“I had a good connection with [Memorial Union Director Carl Stiles] where we could plan that the seven female-identified bathrooms and the one gender-neutral bathroom can have boxes of tampons and pads inside,” Bentley said. “If all goes well, we can hopefully see them in all the highly populated areas, like the library and residence halls.”

Currently, this program is funded by the Senate, unlike URI’s program to provide free contraceptives to students, which is funded by the Rhode Island Department of Health.

Bentley said that he hopes the University will take over funding the program at some point. Berard agreed, saying that he didn’t think Student Senate should be funding the program, but someone had to start it.

“From what I’ve heard from Health Services and the Division of Student Affairs, this is something they’d like to pick up,” Bentley said.

Cultural Affairs Chair Bolu Taiwo also ran and oversaw URI’s first menstrual products drive aimed at combating period poverty in southern Rhode Island.

Taiwo said the idea came from one of the members of her committee, and she thought that it would be a good idea, especially considering Bentley’s push for free menstrual products on campus.

“Conventional products are really expensive, and a lot of people don’t have access,” Taiwo said. “Especially since it’s really hard with COVID right now. You shouldn’t have to decide between being hungry and buying products you need.”

The event, which was held throughout Women’s History Month, ended last Monday. Taiwo said that she believed the drive went well, despite the circumstances.

“We have been getting donations,” Taiwo said. “[People seem more willing] to donate products because they know that it will go to a good cause.”

Campus organizations Powerful, Independent, Notoriously, Knowledgeable (PINK) Women and the URI Women’s Center have helped with the drive. All of the menstrual products will be donated to shelters in the URI area. According to Bentley, the menstrual products at URI will be supplied by Aunt Flow, a company that supplies menstrual products to schools and other companies.

Both Taiwo and Bentley are hoping that their successors will keep these programs going after they are no longer the chairs of their respective committees next year.

“I hope that the next chair does continue this menstrual drive, and hopefully even make it longer,” Taiwo said.

This story was published in the March 25, 2021 edition of the Good Five Cent Cigar.

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