Photo courtesy of The Center for Women & Gender Equity via Instagram (@wcu_cwge).
This fall at West Chester University, several organizations and students have banded together to tackle the crisis of period poverty, specifically in our own community.
In 2021, 2,554 West Chester University students were surveyed by the Hope Center, in which approximately 44%of those who responded were found to experience insecurity when it comes to essentials. This is also known as Basic Need Insecurity, or BNI. This number further indicates that there is an even higher number of students who experience this struggle when we account for all 15,500 students that can be found on campus.
Katherine Kerr, a fourth-year political science major and the Event and Donor Resource Coordinator for the West Chester Resource Pantry, explained that “[BNI] can look like many things— lack of access to food, rent money and menstrual products. If nearly half of the participants of this survey exhibit some type of need, there are likely many more students who were not portrayed within this survey who also face BNI. Menstrual products are expensive and are taxed in many states (fortunately not in PA). A large portion of our student population menstruates and sometimes we do not have a pad or a tampon on us when our period starts. Others may not have any access to pads and tampons at all.”
As a result of the high numbers of students who do not have access to the necessary products that they need on a monthly basis, The Resource Pantry, in partnership with the Center for Women and Gender Equity (CWGE), the Center for Civic Engagement and Student Impact and the Global Studies Minor, decided that something needed to be done in order to provide students with these basics so that they can focus on their education and any other roles they may have. It was through the collaborative efforts of these groups that this year’s WCU Period Project was started.
Calling for people to “join us to begin the fight for equity,” The Period Project’s first event took place on Oct. 26, in Sykes 209. Students were encouraged to bring old shoeboxes to the event and take part in decorating, preparing the boxes to and distributed around campus for the collection of menstruation supplies.
The event was attended by Kerrs and Resource Pantry GA Skylar Kelly, who worked together to decorate the boxes with informational sheets about The Resource Pantry and The Period Project before stuffing them full of tampons and pads.
The following week, on Monday, Nov. 1, the official Period Project kickoff event was held in Sykes Ballroom from 7-8:30 p.m. Students came and were able to learn more about BNI, period poverty, and what they can do to help from the Resource Pantry and CWGE. Also there were State Senators, who were able to speak on PA Senate Bill 602, which seeks to “provide for the provision of disposable menstrual products.” With approximately 30 attendees hosted in person and over Zoom, guest speakers had the opportunity to impart their knowledge onto students who wanted to learn more.
“We began the event with a quick introduction about how the period project got started and heard from WCU student Juliana Elg. We were in the Global Studies minor seminar class together last spring. Juliana did her final project on period poverty, and when the class was tasked with developing a project to better our campus, we decided providing free menstrual products was the way to go,” Kerrs stated. “After Juliana spoke about period poverty, we heard from Chyna Hart, a GA from the Resource Pantry, about what the Pantry does and how they have been offering free menstrual products for a while. After that, we heard from Tess Benser about the intersectionality of menstruation and then PA State Senators Amanda Cappelletti and Maria Collett about their legislative work to combat period poverty in PA.”
Attendees left with a greater understanding of the problem many WCU students are facing when it comes to period poverty. There are now boxes set out in bathrooms across campus which hold menstruation products that can be taken by anyone who needs them.
Though some of these boxes have now been installed, The Period Project is still in need of products to help further their initiative. Currently, The Resource Pantry, located at the bottom of Commonwealth Hall, is asking for donations of shoeboxes that can be decorated and placed in more bathrooms on campus, in addition to any menstrual products that can be used to fill the aforementioned boxes.
“Right now, we are looking for volunteers to help decorate, stuff, and disperse shoeboxes. I hope we will be able to set up a drive and maybe host another speaker’s series to continue the discussion around menstruation and period poverty,” Kerr explained further. “We also encourage you to talk about periods and help to normalize having one and smash the taboo around menstruating being a ‘dirty’ or secret process. It is natural and is nothing to be ashamed of.”
If you are interested in participating in the initiative or finding ways to continue helping students facing BNI, The Resource Pantry has provided a link for volunteer sign ups: https://appoint.ly/s/wcuperiodproject/decorate
Ali Kochik is a fourth-year English major with minors in Journalism and Women’s & Gender Studies. AK908461@wcupa.edu