Howard University is at risk of violating the Expanding Student Access to Period Products Act of 2022, according to research conducted by The Hilltop.
The D.C. Act went into effect on Jan. 24 of last year, and its provisions require local education agencies, private and vocational schools and secondary institutions to offer period product dispensaries or similar “free-for-use period” dispensary products in all women and gender-neutral bathrooms.
If a gender neutral bathroom is unavailable, schools are required to include a period product dispenser in at least one men’s bathroom. The Act specifies that schools, colleges and universities must maintain the dispenser with plans to replenish throughout the school year.
As of April 3., out of the 17 academic buildings searched on the main campus, only five had installed period product dispensers, according to a tally independently conducted by The Hilltop.
According to the map of Howard’s main campus, the university has more than 500 buildings. The Hilltop looked at the most used buildings on the main campus during the week of March 27 to survey if Howard offered period products in women and gender-neutral bathrooms.
This included all academic buildings: School of Business, Academic Support Building (School of Education), Alain Locke Hall, Frederick Douglass Memorial Hall, the Chadwick A. Boseman School of Fine Arts, the MET building, Inabel Lindsey Hall (Social Work), Wilbur Thirkfield Science Hall (Physics), Ernest Just Hall (Biology), the Lewis K. Downing Building (Engineering), the Chemistry Building and the Howard Mackey building (Engineering).
Founders Library, the Undergraduate Library, the Louis Stokes Health Science Library, the bottom level of the Mordecai Johnson Administration Building and the Armour J. Blackburn University Center were also checked.
At the end of the week, it was found that Blackburn, The MET building, the Chadwick A. Boseman School of Fine Arts, School of Business and Undergraduate Library (UGL) were the only buildings found to offer said products with 19 dispensers found overall.
Period products offered within these dispensers consist of one Maxithins pad on one side of the dispenser and singular tampons on the other side.
O’kayvhia Ferguson, a junior political science major, spoke with The Hilltop on behalf of Revolt, Incorporated, a community service organization whose goal is to “identify areas of need” in “feminin-aligned” communities.
Ferguson serves as the Vice President of Internal Affairs for the 2022-23 school year and will be serving as President for the upcoming school year.
Ferguson felt that it was especially important for Howard to adhere to the mandate as there are a majority of students who identify as people with periods, with more than 70 percent of students identifying as women, according to Howard University Institutional Data.
“As an institution with a higher ratio of people who menstruate, it’s important to cater to their needs,” Ferguson said. “While many people carry their own pads and tampons, sometimes you run out or forget them. This mandate allows for the stresses that come from that situation to be alleviated.”
A spokesperson for Howard’s Division of Operations explained that they are currently updating dispensers.
“We are currently updating sanitary dispensers, and in cases where dispensers have been ordered for those bathrooms which do not have, or which require replacing broken or damaged equipment, products will be stationed in baskets free of charge,” the spokesperson said.
Many students, like Sydney Fulton, a second-year junior human development major, have menstrual cycles on campus and come prepared with menstrual products, but they expect the school to have these products available in case of emergencies.
“I’ve never been in a situation where I’ve felt like I wasn’t prepared for my cycle, but I know not everyone is like me and can have those resources easily,” Fulton said. “We need this stuff to kind of maintain our bodies, and when it needs to be accessed it should be easy because we’re born this way, we shouldn’t have to bring it to somebody’s attention to do it.”
Ferguson shares Fulton’s perspective and notes the reality that students also face financial hardships.
“Another reason is simply because menstrual products are so expensive, providing free products is the least the university can do to alleviate any financial difficulties a student is having with acquiring what they need,” Ferguson said.
Anita Plummer, associate Africana Studies professor and acting director of the Center for Women, Gender and Global Leadership, spoke to The Hilltop about the global issue of period poverty and its proximity to Howard’s campus.
“These products and proper waste management facilities should be at low or no cost,” Plummer said. “With all of the issues women contend with on a daily basis, access to basic period necessities should not be one of them.”
A national discussion surrounding access to menstruation products has coined the term, period poverty, according to The Journal of Global Health Reports. The Journal defines period poverty as a “lack of access to menstrual products, hygienic facilities, waste management, and education.”
The Greater DC Diaper Bank, an organization dedicated to providing necessary baby and “adult hygienic products,” shared that the families they help often reported that they stopped buying feminine products due to the price.
Period products vary in price depending on the item. Common period products items include pads, tampons and menstruation cups.
The menstrual brand Always was reported to be the most used brand in terms of pad usage. The Hilltop looked at the stores surrounding Howard and the residences to compare the prices of the Always Maxi Overnight Pads in a size 4 in comparison to the average cost of menstrual products nationwide.
The CVS on 14th Street lists the cost of a pack of 28 Always Maxi Pads as $8.49, while Target in Columbia Heights lists the cost as $7.79. Giant Food lists their retail price as $8.29. Amazon lists the cost as $7.97, not including shipping or tax.
The National Organization for Women estimated that before inflation, “the average woman spends about $20 on feminine hygiene products per cycle.” Since the rise of inflation, many have conducted studies and research examining the problem and its long-term effects.
Within the last eight years, according to the National Conference for State Legislature, at least 30 states, including the District of Columbia, have passed laws meant to ease the “pink tax,” a term referring to the sales tax on menstrual and feminine hygiene products. The Alliance for Period Supplies Organization breaks down the proposed legislature by state, revealing that 108 bills targeting period poverty have either been passed or are currently in the process of being passed in at least 31 states.
According to a press release, The Expanding Students Access to Period Product Act was first introduced in 2021 by councilmember Brooke Pinto. It was passed unanimously during the first legislative session of 2022.
If anyone is aware of a bathroom that needs these dispensers, they need to submit a ticket through the maintenance portal.
Copy edited by Jadyn Barnett