Johnson ’19: Period positivity

Staff Columnist
Monday, September 12, 2016

As an elite institution with a liberal reputation, Brown is ideally placed to take the lead on progressive initiatives. We are an activist community with a student body that has consistently fought for change. Last year in particular, students successfully pushed for new dialogue on race and diversity with student rebuttals and solidarity protests around campus. And while there is still massive scope to expand campus dialogue and tackle other pressing concerns, I believe the ability to build coalitions and successfully implement policy change is one of Brown’s selling points.

This year, the day before classes officially commenced, I was sold on Brown all over again. The Undergraduate Council of Students announced that they would freely supply tampons and sanitary products in non-residential restrooms across campus and replenish them every week. The policy is progressive and promising for a number of reasons. UCS’s hope to “set a more inclusive standard for this issue moving forward,” according to UCS’s press release — and to encourage students at other universities to follow suit — takes full advantage of Brown’s potential and influence and sets an example for the entire nation to follow.

The UCS initiative is significant because it puts periods on full display in open discourse and recognizes the disproportionate financial burden on women. The cost of periods each month can be debilitating, costing an average $18,171 over the length of a lifetime. Our nation is only just beginning to make sanitary products more accessible, and the process so far has been slow and controversial. The tax on sanitary products, better known as the “tampon tax” or “pink tax,” has only been eliminated or negotiated in a handful of states. The others still consider tampons and pads luxury items when, in fact, they are life necessities. As much as some might like to pretend menstruation does not exist, people who menstruate cannot just ignore an unavoidable bodily function and the costs that come with it.

College students, especially those from low-income households, are extra sensitive to the costs of these necessities. Toiletries can add up quickly, especially in the expensive College Hill neighborhood. There are many students and many schools in our small state, and those who need to purchase these products pay more every month in living costs.

But the UCS implementation of free tampons and pads in campus restrooms does more than fight the unjust financial burden of periods — it combats the negative social stigma associated with them. The open baskets of tampons and pads normalize a simple fact of biology that many would rather hide or ignore. The supply of products in men’s and gender-inclusive restrooms around campus is vital, contrary to comments and opinions online that question the decision. The baskets in the men’s and gender-inclusive restrooms not only include transgender students in the narrative and fight binary limitations but also add a valuable visual norm for male students. If a male student does not need to use a product, he does not have to use one. There are only benefits in fostering greater inclusivity on campus.

The national spotlight on this progress is also important. Newsfeeds were swarming with articles about Brown and UCS’s new initiative. We received the attention we deserve, prompting national momentum and providing a precedent for other universities to follow suit. New York City’s and Dublin, Ohio’s public school systems have already implemented the policy, and university students have been advocating free sanitary products across the nation. Now student advocacy groups in schools like Emory College and Grinnell College can look to and take heart in UCS’s response to dialogue.

There is a real responsibility for policy makers to address cultural normalizations that can harm individuals such as this gendered topic. Our Brown community is making a big difference for other students and has joined a growing global movement to honestly and positively talk about periods and the female body. Women will not stay hidden any longer. Thank you, UCS.

Grace Johnson ’19 can be reached at

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