By Julianne Lempert
Picture this. You’re doing homework in your dorm at night, and you stand up to go to the bathroom. There’s no toilet paper. But there is some free at the Ashe Center! You take the 15-minute walk to Ashe in the dark, grab the singular square of toilet paper allowed, and head back up to your dorm. Before bed, you have to go again––no toilet paper. You walk to Ashe; 30 minutes later, you’re back in your dorm. Fingers crossed you don’t need to use the bathroom in the middle of the night!
Now replace ‘toilet paper’ with ‘tampon.’
UCLA is complicit in period poverty. Similar to food insecurity, period poverty refers to the financial burden of purchasing period products. A Penn State study showed that 49% of their students could not find a period product on campus when they needed it; about 13% had to skip school or work because they didn’t have a tampon. It’s a widespread issue all college campuses need to address.
UCLA claims to, but does it really? The Ashe Center boasts that it provides “free menstrual hygiene products all year long.” Their website warmly encourages students by saying, “please feel free to stop in for these products whenever needed.” Yet the Ashe Center condom jar says “take as needed” and the tampon jar says “take one.” Condoms facilitate safe sex––great. But sex is a choice; periods are not. The point is not to disparage other necessities or detract from these resources, but to point out that a product associated with men is provided liberally, whereas a feminine product is controlled. It’s fantastic that condoms are offered; the issue is UCLA’s priorities.
UCLA’s financial decisions communicate that pleasure for men is more important than an outright necessity for women.
While the school does distribute free tampons at Ashe, it’s only one at a time. Students have to travel to Ashe every single time they need to change their tampon. But since the pandemic, students cannot access Ashe without an appointment. In other words, however many Ashe appointments you’ve had during your time at UCLA is how many tampons the school thinks you deserve. It’s a sub-par, unfair, and a poorly designed system.
What’s worse, UCLA is parading as something it isn’t. It is not the progressive, all-inclusive haven it loves to market itself as. While the de jure tampon policy looks great on paper, it’s a de facto nightmare for students with periods. Nothing about this approach is feminist or progressive. The policy also has a disproportionate effect upon women of color. Black and Hispanic women are the most likely to experience period poverty. If UCLA claims to stand against systemic racism and practice intersectional feminism, then supporting women of color should logically follow.
We know UCLA can access funds, and we know UCLA spends them elsewhere. An unforeseen, unprecedented pandemic emerged, and the school immediately poured its resources into unlimited free COVID tests. The school can clearly afford to take care of student health needs at an impressively large scale––yet it whiffs on period poverty.
By just swiping their Bruin card, students can get a free COVID test at multiple vending machines distributed throughout campus and in every residence hall on the Hill. The value difference between one tampon and one COVID test is incomparable, and so is the need frequency. In a week of my period, I need about 40 separate period products; but I need 4 COVID tests per month. It would make more sense to have COVID tests at the Ashe Center and tampons throughout campus.
UCLA cannot market period products in the same way that it can COVID-19 test kits. Period poverty is a taboo and thus invisible struggle. UCLA may not be fiscally profiting, but the abundant COVID test kits for desperate students generates PR glory and lucrative clout. Providing period products does not yield such social returns.
UCLA needs new priorities. The school knows how to get money when it needs it. This argument is not to shame UCLA’s fiscal situation, but to question its allocation of funds. As the need for COVID testing dissipates while period poverty remains, it is an opportune budget transfer.
Given that UCLA’s top priority is academic prowess, the school should care that its tampon policy thwarts the full academic potential of students. I left an Introduction to World Politics lecture because I needed to change my tampon, and I didn’t have any left in my bag. So I had to pack my things and go. And that’s a story coming from someone who doesn’t experience period poverty, just a period. No one should have to stay home or leave class because of something they have no control over.
We need period product vending machines. We need free dispensers in all bathrooms, residence halls, and academic buildings. We need tampons available at all front desks on the Hill. UCLA has the logistical ability, the money, and, in spades, the brainpower. The school’s inaction does not mean it cannot help; it just means that it does not want to. It’s about human dignity. It’s about human rights. It’s about human decency.
It’s time to turn up the pressure. IGNITE has started a petition to demand that UCLA take action. Students can find this petition on Instagram (@igniteatucla).
UC Santa Barbara provides bins of free period products in 5 of its residence halls. UC San Diego offers free period products in most campus restrooms.
@UCLA: are you really the #1 public university?
Author’s Update (March, 2022): In response to substantial student advocacy, UCLA announced a change in policy. The University will now provide period products in campus restrooms. This policy change would not have been possible without emails, protests, petitions, drives, and articles like this one. We still need period products in residence halls, though; the fight is not over.