Eastern Michigan University’s Changing the Cycle program aims to combat period poverty by making free menstrual products available across campus.
Period poverty is the lack of access to period products (pads, tampons, menstrual cups, etc.). This lack of access can be due to financial means, lack of transportation, and the stigma around such products.
1 in 10 women in college cannot afford to buy period products. Changing the Cycle wants to destigmatize menstrual products and provide accessibility to anyone who needs them.
Starting in January of 2021, Swoop’s Food Pantry interns Talecia Avery, Michaela Foster, and Roya Herrle collaborated to create EMU’s Changing the Cycle after noticing the non-existence of menstrual product dispensers across campus. The interns partnered with the Women's Resource Center, EMU Student Government, and a social work learning class to obtain funding and materials.
The students researched and then received help and resources from Aunt Flow to further the program. Aunt Flow is committed to ensuring everyone has access to menstrual products regardless of gender.
“Accessibility matters, not everyone who menstruates identifies as feminine,” Julie Harkema, faculty advisor for Swoop’s Food Pantry, said. “A lot of our dispensers are in public spaces or in gender-neutral bathrooms, so whoever needs them can get them, but people can also get products for friends.”
The student government at EMU funded the program for the first year and installed 8 dispensers across campus. The reaction to the dispensers has overall been positive.
“People are enjoying and appreciating the dispensers and were receiving a lot of positive feedback from people responding to our surveys,” Janelle Polasek, student project manager for Changing the Cycle, said. “60% of our users are using these products in an emergency situation, no one wants to run to another building or across campus to receive period products.”
The biggest challenge for this program is awareness, so spreading the word to students is essential.
“Stigma is a big issue, not everyone is comfortable talking about this topic,” Polasek said. “We want to reduce the stigma around talking about period products (and period poverty).”
EMU’s Changing the Cycle also provides paper towels and soap in every bathroom because periods are a “hygiene need.”
“We want people to get the most out of their college experience by getting the hygiene products they need,” Polasek said. “People miss out on classes and experiences because of period poverty, and we want to fight and improve things.”
The social work 350L interns are planning an event at the end of the month called Paint Your Flow. This event will help people learn more about the Changing the Cycle program.
EMU’s campus has 20 Aunt Flow dispensers with more than 1,000 products available for free. The program is funded by EMU Student Government, donors and sponsors. It is coordinated by the Women's Resource Center, Swoop’s Food Pantry, the School of Social Work, the University Grounds and Custodial Services Office, and President Smith's Office.
EMU Changing the Cycle hopes to expand their period product dispensers into more buildings and residence halls in the future. Currently, EMU is working to put the period dispensers on the campus map. To find locations of the current period product dispensers and more information on EMU Changing the Cycle, check out their website.