Students from the Women’s Issues Now organization at Grand Rapids Community College are pushing for the college to put feminine hygiene product dispensers back in women’s bathrooms.
WIN President Tessa Dearth said the dispensers are necessary.
“We can’t choose to have our periods,” said Dearth, 22. “They need to have them in the bathrooms.”
While the products are sold on campus, they are at a higher cost.
“Then you go into the bookstore and they are extremely overpriced,” said WIN member Chantal Garcia, 21.
Feminine products are sold at the GRCC Bookstore, located on the first floor of the Student Center, where they are priced at $3.29 for a 10-pack of tampons and $5.49 for a 16-pack of pads, higher than the retail price at local drug stores. The same tampon product is sold as a 54-pack for $9.79 at local drug store Walgreens.
The price per tampon is 32 cents at the GRCC Bookstore and is 18 cents at Walgreens.
All club members agreed that it is unreasonable to expect women to always bring their own feminine products, because of the unpredictability.
“Sometimes you don’t know when it’s going to happen and some weeks are a little heavier than normal,” Dearth said.
GRCC Executive Director of Financial Services Jim Peterson said the feminine hygiene product dispensers were taken out of women’s restrooms in the spring of 2011.
“That was made after some discussion with our facilities (staff) because they were having an issue with those machines being broken into,” Peterson said. “They were being vandalized.”
Peterson said the department also worked with Student Life, and decided that selling products only in the campus bookstore was a more secure way to solve the problem.
Peterson said he remembers women being involved in the decision, but because it was a few years ago, it’s a vague memory.
GRCC Title IX Director Kimberly DeVries was not working at the college when that decision was made and said she was “not apart of the conversation.”
“I think the important part is to make sure they are available and I know right now they are,” DeVries said.
Feminine products are available for free at the Fieldhouse, Student Life and in the student food pantry, also located in Student Life, DeVries said.
“We want to make access for feminine products convenient and as private as we can but we also have to address issues that we had before,” DeVries said. “I would be more than happy to sit down with students and talk about that … (and) take into account other options.”
In addition, WIN members want to see baby changing stations in men’s bathrooms, more on-campus rooms for breastfeeding mothers and eventually a women’s center on campus.
WIN adviser Gretchen Robinson has been trying to get a women’s center on campus for 10 years. She said the schools she reached out to for advice said that their center “started out in a closet.”
“We want to have a gender equity center where (tampons) would be available,” Dearth said, adding that they would also want to have a resources available for anyone of any gender, as well as a library of books on sexual health and general anatomy.
“We were thinking about talking to the hospital to get pamphlets about STDs and … domestic abuse,” said club member Trista Dearth.
Robinson said she hopes to just be able to reserve a room on campus a couple times a week, set it up like a women’s center, and see if GRCC students are interested in coming to a place like that.
“(We could) track the usage and we would have an idea of how many people would come and what types of things they would ask for,” Robinson said. “We weren’t going to be there to give advice of course. .. just to make resources available to them.”
Robinson said they could refer students to local health centers or Planned Parenthood.
“We obviously want somewhere where people can go to feel safe,” Trista said. “No matter what we do in the moment, it’s not going to stop being taboo this instant but we can work towards it.”
“We want to make it a normal thing to go and ask people about this stuff and not feel like it’s a shameful thing to be a female.”
Tessa Dearth said with the political climate, and funding for Planned Parenthood up in question, it’s important to have a safe space for women on GRCC’s campus.
“You’re supposed to learn things at school,” she said. “And there’s no information on feminism and female equality in general, so it’d be nice to go and have a place where people can ask those kind of questions.”