The student activist group that was recently asked to remove a gender equity cart containing maxi pads and tampons from the fourth floor hallway of the Main Building at Grand Rapids Community College has gained ground on making feminine hygiene products accessible on campus.
On May 17, Women’s Issues Now, the student group sponsoring the gender equity cart, was asked to remove the table by a GRCC administrator who said the table was a fire hazard. WIN members are still unclear why the table was branded the label.
“They just kind of labeled it a fire hazard and that was that,” said WIN Secretary Chantal Garcia. “They said because it (the cart) was a movable item, but it has breaks. We could change the table. There’s modifications we could do.”
The Collegiate reached out to Director of Student Life and Conduct Lina Blair regarding the decision by the administration to remove the table. Blair could not comment on why the table was labeled a fire hazard, but shared that the issue with the table did not stem from its content, rather it was out “placement/safety.”
In spring 2011, the feminine hygiene dispensers in women’s restrooms campus-wide were removed. The administration and facilities removed the dispensers citing vandalism and theft for the removal of the dispensers. Since then, feminine hygiene products have not been made available to students in campus bathroom dispensers.
In an effort to provide students with free feminine hygiene products, WIN set up a table containing maxi pads, tampons, diapers, condoms, educational brochures and other items and named it the “Gender Equity Table” in October 2017. The small table, about the size of an individual classroom desk, was placed in front of the unisex bathrooms on the fourth floor of the Main Building until May 17 when WIN was asked by the administration to remove the table.
Nearly three weeks after the removal of the cart, GRCC administrators and WIN members have come to an agreement on how to proceed with providing feminine hygiene products. The products will be free for students.
According to Blair, the administration has chosen seven pilot locations to launch beginning Wed., June 6. The restroom locations are:
Main Building – first floor, women’s
Cook Hall – fourth floor, unisex
Applied Technology Center – main entrance, women’s
Library – main floor, women’s*
Student Center – second floor, women’s
Calkins Science Center – first floor, women’s
Sneden Hall – second floor, unisex
*Note: The library currently has two restrooms containing free tampons and maxi pads, but WIN will begin donating products to the library to maintain their stock.
In addition to the pilot restrooms, feminine hygiene products will be available at all snack pantries including those at the Leslie E. Tassell M-TEC building and the lakeshore campuses, making the feminine hygiene products available to all students. The food pantries are set to be stocked by Fri., June 8 according to Blair.
The locations and more information on where students can access feminine hygiene products on campus will be added to GRCC’s Gender-Related Resources page on the school’s website once the restrooms have been stocked with the items. Additionally, students can find a list of GRCC’s campus-wide snack pantries on the Student Food Pantries page.
Executive Director of Facilities Jim Van Dokkumburg added that the plan for the installation of the baskets will be free for students.
“We have a mechanism in place for it to be a no-charge setup,” he said. “It’ll be free on the honor system. Everyone wanted to land somewhere, so it took some time to get to where there was common ground.”
For WIN, this change is the culmination of many months of hard work.
“For the past couple of years, it has been difficult for our voices to be heard,” WIN President Tessa Dearth said in an email statement to GRCC President Bill Pink that she shared with The Collegiate. “This has been discouraging considering the amount of hard work and effort our club puts into making a positive impact on our campus. We strive to be an organization that is a safe place for all and can help when there’s nowhere else to go even for the most essential items, like sanitary products.”
Dearth continued her statement by thanking Pink for his help and responsiveness to the issue.
“On behalf of Women’s Issues Now, we would like to thank you,” Dearth wrote. “We are extremely overjoyed with how you’ve listened to our concerns and your willingness to respond to us quickly.”
The library at GRCC has had a similar setup for students to have access to maxi pads and tampons for some time. Toni Harrington, library circulation specialist at GRCC, responded to students’ needs quietly over a year ago by placing a basket with feminine hygiene products in the library’s ladies room on the first and second floor.
“It seemed, frankly, like a no-brainer to have products laying around in the bathroom,” Harrington said. “We weren’t really concerned about theft to begin with, and we thought we’d try it out just leaving it open in hopes that people would be respectful and just take what they needed and leave what they don’t and that’s been our experience.”
The basket is refilled with donated products from students, faculty and student groups.
“We’ve had no instances of theft,” Harrington said. “In fact, just the opposite. We’ve had students come in now and donate products because they were so thankful that in a time of need there was something available for them and being in the bathroom is the most logical place to house these items.”
Harrington added that the most pleasant surprise is being a witness to students paying it forward to fellow students and staff.
“We all have moments when we’re not prepared, and it’s far more embarrassing than not having a pencil,” she said. “So to have a discrete solution is really fantastic, especially in a school setting. It’s the last thing you want to have to think about.”
The baskets are set to be placed in women’s and unisex restrooms at various locations throughout campus beginning Wednesday afternoon.