In the fall of 2016, Brown students were welcomed back onto campus with the heartening news that the Undergraduate Council of Students would begin supplying pads and tampons in women’s, men’s and gender-inclusive restrooms throughout campus — an initiative now known as Project Tampon. In the spring of 2018, however, the project was put on pause, as UCS worked throughout the rest of the academic year to transfer the responsibility for the program’s administration over to the University. Since April 2018, when The Herald reported on these changes, the exact status or future of Project Tampon remained unclear to the community.
Last Tuesday, UCS President Shanzé Tahir '19 and UCS Vice President Camila Pelsinger ’20 stated in a community-wide update that dispensers around campus are being stocked with free menstrual hygiene products. UCS also noted plans to install more dispensers in restrooms around campus. In today’s Herald, the Department of Facilities Management has finally confirmed that it will take over the administration of Project Tampon. While we applaud UCS leadership and Facilities for successfully institutionalizing Project Tampon, key questions around the project’s path to sustainable implementation remain.
For one, it is unclear why institutionalizing the project necessitated the level of confusion the Brown community experienced over the past year. The program was plagued by miscommunication while it remained in limbo. While former UCS President Chelse Amoy-Steele ’18 explained to the student body at the beginning of her term last year that institutionalizing Project Tampon was a priority, the project’s status as Facilities and UCS began talks was never made clear. In April last semester, UCS halted the distribution of free menstrual products without notifying the student body, The Herald previously reported. At the end of the last semester, Steele sent an email to UCS general body members explaining that Facilities would take charge of Project Tampon this fall, but The Herald was unable to confirm this with the administration over the summer and as of Sept. 17. Though Tahir initially informed the first UCS meeting of the 2018-19 academic year that Project Tampon’s transfer to Facilities Management was “all set to go,” Tahir later told The Herald that “UCS is looking into Project Tampon’s sustained implementation” after being informed of the University’s response.
Tahir and Pelsinger’s update last week is a welcome breath of fresh air in a situation that has been rife with inconsistency. But while UCS has made strides in terms of transparency, on an institutional level the Council must reassess the manner in which it communicated the status of Project Tampon to the wider Brown community to ensure that future updates are timely and responsive to student concerns.
Facilities’ update in today’s Herald taking ownership of Project Tampon’s administration also provided much-needed clarity on the status of the project. Facilities outlines a plan for the program’s expansion beyond the 32 campus buildings where one can currently access free menstrual products. Specifically, women’s restrooms that don’t already have dispensers will be equipped with them, as will gender-inclusive restrooms in the Stephen Robert ’62 Campus Center and Page-Robinson Hall. Three restrooms in the Rockefeller Library are also slated to be installed with dispensers.
But the plan still lacks key details: a clear timeline for the implementation of these changes and information on the sourcing of the menstrual products. Providing a timeline would serve as a mechanism for community members to ensure accountability, and is particularly called for in light of the delays and miscommunication the transfer has already encountered. Though UCS has erred in communicating the transfer of the program to Facilities, it commendably was very open with students over the sourcing of menstrual products. In October 2017, when students raised concerns about Tampon Tribe, UCS changed suppliers and communicated this change promptly to community members less than 12 hours after a public announcement of the Tampon Tribe partnership. At the time, UCS indicated that it would be sourcing tampons from Boxed; in June 2018, Steele wrote in a community-wide email that Project Tampon would be using Aunt Flow, a gender-inclusive company that creates 100 percent organic compostable products. Facilities would do well to follow UCS’ lead in this regard and inform community members of how it will source products as the department takes over its implementation.
To be sure, the importance of Project Tampon cannot be overstated; its objectives lie at the very heart of the University’s values of promoting diversity and inclusion on campus. By offering free hygiene products in certain public restrooms around campus, Project Tampon actively breaks down the economic barriers that those who menstruate face while juggling the typical stresses of college life. Without the necessary hygiene products, it becomes impossible for these students to attend classes, focus on their studies and be active and engaged members of our community. This project is an incredibly impactful way for the University to better ensure that every student feels comfortable at Brown and has the resources at hand to thrive here. Institutionalizing the program is no less of an achievement for UCS leadership and demonstrates the University’s commitment to the well-being of its students. But it is clear that Project Tampon could have benefitted — and, going forward, can benefit — from more timely communication to empower students to hold the University to the standards it has set for itself.
Editorials are written by The Herald’s editorial page board: Anuj Krishnamurthy ’19, Rhaime Kim ’20, Grace Layer ’20, Mark Liang ’19 and Krista Stapleford ’21. Please send responses to this opinion to email@example.com and op-eds to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Correction: A previous version of the editorial said that the project was put on pause in spring 2017. In fact, it was put on pause in spring 2018. The Herald regrets the error.