When Chase Werther learned that Gov. Rick Scott removed the “luxury tax” from pads, tampons and other feminine hygiene products in May, she recognized an opportunity for a special project: lobby the University of Florida to provide free menstrual products in various places across campus for students.
Werther, service director for the university’s Women’s Student Association, rallied other organizations on campus to ask UF’s Student Government to use student activity and service fees to buy dispensers for menstrual products and student health fees to purchase the pads and tampons.
“We have toilet paper for that physiological need,” said Werther, a 20-year-old philosophy and political science student at UF. “We should have pads for this need.”
Along with the women’s association, the members of the coalition are the Gainesville chapter of the National Women’s Liberation and two other UF student organizations: Planned Parenthood Generation Action UF and the Pride Student Union.
Women make up about 53 percent of UF’s student body, according to UF’s Institutional Planning and Research. If one of these students gets her period unexpectedly on campus, a free pad or tampon is available to her only in a bathroom in the Women’s Clinic in the university’s infirmary.
If menstruating students cannot get to the infirmary, they could go to an on-campus store to purchase a pack of 10 tampons for $3.59 or a pack of 18 pads for $5.69. This could result in the student skipping class to go find the products or to go home to avoid paying for them on campus, Werther said.
In an effort to get the products in more locations and make them available for free, Werther began the campaign for dispensers in restrooms.
The campaign, Gators Matter, Period., launched in September. On Oct. 9, the group posted an online petition, which received more than 3,000 signatures in its first three days, Werther said.
Florida State University, Harvard and Columbia already provide free menstrual products, so “this is the time to confront this issue,” Werther said.
FSU has done so for a long time but not in dispensers widely distributed across campus, said Sabrina Bousbar, a junior at FSU and pro tempore of the university’s student government.
However, many students never knew this because the products were available only upon request, she said.
“We had to take responsibility and do a call to action,” Bousbar said after seeing that an online petition calling for free menstrual products had received more than 600 signatures.
In April, FSU’s student government unanimously passed a bill to have its senate spend funds from its special projects budget on pads and tampons — similar to what the UF coalition wants.
For the 2017-18 school year, FSU bought 1,000 pads and 1,000 tampons for distribution in dispensers between its student union and student life center. The cost of all 2,000 products was $744, according to documents from FSU.
The dispensers, which were purchased this year, cost $113 each. Two were placed in the student union and four in the student life center — all in unisex restrooms.
“We’re hoping [the products] last until the end of fall and half of spring,” Bousbar said, adding that she hopes FSU’s student government will fund the purchase of more each time they run out.
If UF were to adopt a similar measure, Werther said the university’s Student Government could pay for it with student activity and service fees.
Student Government has allocated $55,000 of student activity and service fees in its budget for special projects on campus. Items funded by the special projects line are up to Student Government’s discretion each year.
Projects previously supported with this money include free parking for students in the Bledsoe parking lot at the Southwest Recreation Center and ProctorU space at Library West, said James Tyger, director of the Department of Student Government Advising and Operations.
However, Werther’s coalition turned instead to student health fees for possible product funding after learning about a restriction on student activity and service fees being used for single-use items.
The restriction requires that activity and service fees cannot be spent on “material that is inherently used by only one person and cannot be re-used by someone else,” according to UF’s Student Government 800 Codes, which are part of the Student Government constitution.
This means money from the student activity and service fees special projects line could not purchase tampons and pads, only the dispensers, but student health fees could, Werther said. Still, student activity and service fees have paid for single-use items before, she said.
“SG does pay for single-use items all the time, but they don’t recognize it,” Werther said.
Concerts paid for by the fees, for example, are a single-use experience that cannot be reused or experienced again, she said.
Three members of Student Government’s executive branch, including President Smith Meyers, as well as SG’s marketing and communications specialist, Catherine Seemann, could not be reached for comment or declined to comment.
As for the health fees, the Student Health Care Center receives up to $11 million from them each year, according Dr. Guy Nicolette, director of the Student Health Care Center. All of this funding goes toward services for students and others who pay the fee, he said.
Nicolette said free pads and tampons are offered in the Women’s Clinic, but there are “no current plans to make [menstrual] products available at other campus locations for a variety of reasons.”
“First, it is obviously the manpower and restocking of those on campus. It would become technically impossible,” he said. “No. 2 is we have a finite budget. We try to be good stewards of the money, and I think providing any products is best [done] at the facility itself.”
The coalition is also looking to UF’s GatorWell Health Promotion Services to help fund the products. GatorWell receives more than $1 million from the student health fees, according to Brad Bennett, senior associate controller of UF Division of Finance and Accounting
During each school year, GatorWell spends roughly $2,750 of its budget to distribute about 30,000 sexual health items — like male and female condoms and dental dams — to students, said Joel Axon, a GatorWell spokesman.
According to GatorWell’s senior director, David Bowles, funds in GatorWell’s budget (which comes solely from the health fees) pays for staff salaries, health promotion education and wellness coaching. Menstrual products, however, are “not a health promotion product,” he said. “There are a lot of things not within [GatorWell’s] mission to provide.”
Specifically, pads and tampons are “not something [GatorWell is] budgeting to provide and not something they could sustain over time with the current funding structure.”
But education (sex education specifically) and women’s health issues are not mutually exclusive, said Tessa Walter, vice president of Planned Parenthood Generation Action UF, one of the organizations in the coalition.
“It’s a good sign that UF already gives out condoms,” Walter said. “But why not give out menstrual products? Sex is not necessary, but menstruation isn’t something people choose.”
If one or more of these various funding avenues does pan out, the coalition hopes UF can by next school year fund free tampons and pads in gender-neutral bathrooms at the J. Wayne Reitz Union, Library West, Marston Library and Heavener Hall.
“If nothing else, we are decreasing the stigma surrounding periods,” Walter said. “Our mission is still noble, and we’re still contributing to a productive conversation.”