YSU addresses period poverty

The Penguin Pantry in Kilcawley Center has a surplus of menstrual hygiene products free and available to any YSU student, but has limited hours due to a lack of human resources to work the station. Photo by C. Aileen Blaine / The Jambar

With the recent remodeling of the restrooms in and around Youngstown State University’s Kilcawley Center, students may have noticed new additions to the walls of women’s, unisex and select men’s rooms: menstrual product dispensers. 

Student Government Association members are taking on a few initiatives to tackle the growing need for these hygiene products in areas of high student traffic, such as Kilcawley Center and Andrews Student Recreation and Wellness Center. One of these measures includes the installation of the new dispensers in the remodeled restrooms. 

SGA President Nicholas Koupiaris and Executive Vice President Gianna Battaglia are the current faces behind the free-product dispensers. The repositories are paid for with leftover funds from SGA and are provided by Aunt Flow, a company working to address menstruating individuals’ needs across the country.

“When we were first putting these in, we didn’t know exactly how students would react, if they would be very popular or not,” Koupiaris said. 

Office of Student Experience Vice President Joy Polkabla Byers said there have been a variety of measures attempted over the past 17 years.

“Evolution-wise, we’ve really seen growth — it’s just come in different waves across campus,” Polkabla Byers said.

Former SGA administrations pushed for the 50-cent tampons and liners to be included in the food-and-drink vending machines in buildings across campus, especially after a contract with the metal restroom dispenser company Tamabrands ended a few years ago. 

“There were dispensers campus-wide, and when that contract ended, so did the support of those dispensers,” John Young, executive director of auxiliary services, said. “Sustainability is a big concern — making sure this is something we’ll continue to support as an initiative.”

The Aunt Flow machines are currently stocked under a campus janitorial agreement, but future discussions are needed to determine who will continue to restock supplies. 

Battaglia said expanding the product availability relies not just on supplies and human resources, but also on finances.

“As we keep installing these in different buildings and departments, we also have to keep in mind what our budget entails,” she said. “Not only does that entail the cost of the dispenser and putting them in the bathrooms, but also how much money we have to restock.”

For those living in student housing, the Kilcawley Center dispensers only go so far. Within the last two years, the CVS Pharmacy on Fifth Avenue closed, leaving many on-campus residents without nearby access to products beyond what’s available in dorms, the campus Barnes & Noble and the vending machines in buildings locked overnight and on weekends. This makes it all the more difficult for those in and around campus to get what they need if they lack transportation. 

The Penguin Pantry, a resource for students who may be food insecure, also offers a variety of hygiene and toiletry products, including pads and tampons. Any student is able to use the pantry. They’re only asked to fill out an online form for item requests under a first name and last name initial, which can reduce the embarrassment or anxiety some students may feel.  

The pantry offers sanitary wipes, tampons, pads and liners that can be picked up at a time and date of the student’s choice. They can send someone else to pick up the order to preserve anonymity.

 

Michael Cline, SGA vice president for Assessment and Enrichment, observed that the pantry doesn’t get as much use as it could, but he acknowledged that factors such as time constraints, embarrassment or lack of awareness may cause this.

“It’s an asset to students that they haven’t really seen and utilized, and it’s something that we’re really trying to get up off the ground,” Cline said. “It’s not just canned goods — it’s feminine hygiene products and personal hygiene products in general.”

Though the pantry has an abundance of supplies, a shortage of staff to work at the pantry’s physical location in Kilcawley Center limits the hours, which are as follows:

  • Monday: 11 a.m.–1:30 p.m., 2–4 p.m.
  • Tuesday: 1–4 p.m.
  • Wednesday: 10 a.m.–1:30 p.m.
  • Thursday: 12–4 p.m.
  • Friday: 11 a.m.–1:30 p.m.

“Everywhere’s hiring right now, so it’s kind of difficult to hire a pantry worker right now,” Cline said. “But we’re in the final stages of hiring somebody, which will open up those hours that the pantry can be open.”

In the meantime, SGA plans to expand the Aunt Flow dispensers to restrooms across campus. The timeline has yet to be determined, according to Koupiaris. 

“We would hope this initiative is as important to the next SGA administration as it is to us,” Battaglia said. “We’ve heard so much positive feedback on so many different platforms from students, and I hope that is enough for them to want to keep it going.”

Leave a Reply