Take a second look the next time you step into a Furman University bathroom! The university launches its free period product program in support of Furman’s health promotion, sustainability, and equity goals. Furman has partnered with The Organic Project (TOP) to install free vending period product dispensers in all academic building bathrooms. Each dispenser will include day pads and regular tampons - all of which are organic, plant-based, and sustainably sourced! That said, Furman recognizes the importance of serving students' basic hygiene needs by creating a more equitable space for all menstruating students.

This program was made possible by a 2021-22 Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Mini Grant on behalf of the project entitled Periods2Progress, awarded to the Women's, Gender, and Sexuality Studies program. This grant, written through the joint efforts of Olivia Glad, Post-Baccalaureate Fellow for WGSS, and current WGSS Program Director, Dr. Savita Nair was written with the intent to carry out this initiative on a much smaller scale. Thankfully, through the help of Mr. Rick Schosky and Mr. Jim Benes, this project will not only be supported by the WGSS Program and the DEI Committee directly, but in the upcoming year the financial support, continued restocking, and maintenance of the dispensers will be carried out by Furman University Facilities.

Although free dispensing products are a wonderful solution for students caught in a bind, this program does not put period poverty to an end. Period poverty is defined as having limited or inadequate access to period products or menstrual health education and is experienced by 1 in 10 college students. The dispenser program is meant to create a more equitable space for all menstruating individuals; it is not intended to supply the monthly demand of an individual's period. Moving forward, we envision that the next step to provide for this need would be to introduce a program where students experiencing period product insecurity have monthly or semester-based access to larger packs of product. Any feedback received from students regarding the current dispenser program could inform Furman whether or not there is a greater demand for products on campus.

Through my senior year spring semester internship with TOP, I have had the opportunity to facilitate the connection between TOP and Furman's campus to help see this project come to fruition. I have gained so much from this experience, and I am immensely grateful to the TOP team and all the wonderful people at the internship office.

When I was a freshman biology major, I found myself faced with a semester-long research project for one of my classes. We were asked to investigate the presence and concentration of estrogenic chemicals in a food, plastic, or liquid of our choice. These chemicals, which can be found in foods or leached from plastics and liquids, mimic the effects of naturally occurring estrogens and can cause detrimental effects. As topics were being chosen and groups were being assigned, one of my classmates suggested investigating tampon applicators. I paused to think about the possibility that harmful chemicals could be present in products that I use every month. After all, companies are not federally mandated to list ingredients on the boxes. This got me to ask myself, ‘Why aren’t more people concerned about this?’ ‘Why haven’t I thought about this before?’ I kept asking myself these sorts of questions all through the experiment, and, luckily, we found that there was no significant concentration of estrogenic chemicals in the plastics of tampon applicators.

Fast forward to October of 2021 when I found myself in the process of applying for internships for my last semester at Furman. Ms. Isenminger and I were updating my resumé when she made the connection between my research project and a new company parter of Furman. After telling her a little more about it, she mentioned that there was a recent Furman graduate who worked for a women-owned, organic, and sustainable period product brand, TOP The Organic Project. I was offered an internship position and now here we are, launching a program to supply Furman students with free period products that are better for you, better for the planet and better for others!

This partnership has been in the works for months and has involved many meetings involving individuals from the WGSS Program, Facilities, my colleagues at TOP, and me. As a student, it has been amazing to be a part of a hard-working team that is passionate about its purpose. I’m excited for current and incoming students to reap the benefits of this program.

If you want to learn more about the program and the dispensers, join our tabling event on April 22nd from 12:30-2:00 pm in the Joseph Vaugh Plaza! We will have free stickers, pins, and more! Plus, there will be a chance to win FREE period products for a year!

I want to give a big thanks to Morgan Cooper at TOP, Dr. Savita Niar, Olivia Glad, Mr. Jim Benes, Mr. Rick Schosky, and the entire maintenance crew who will keep this project alive after its implementation.

To learn more about the products, visit TOP’s website.

To learn more about similar programs in the area, visit Homeless Period Project.