Student government aims to increase access to menstrual health products

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Free access to menstrual health products will soon be more accessible on campus.

Other factors such as a new state law, a growing social movement, and renewed pressure from students have contributed to El Camino College’s effort to provide free health products.

The Menstrual Fairness for All Act says community colleges must provide an “adequate supply” of menstrual products, free of charge, on campus.

For several years, the Associated Student Association of El Camino College has discussed the possibility of providing menstrual health products to female students. Previously, the college did not support their requests, citing cost and logistical challenges.

Student administrator Sidney Lee said it was difficult to talk to administrators at the school.

“Previous discussions with the administration have been difficult,” Lee said. “They thought there were other more pressing issues, and it was difficult without state funding and support.”

Lee credited the administration with being more supportive and said students shouldn’t have to ask for menstrual products.

“Menstrual products should be as common as toilet paper,” Lee said. “People shouldn’t have to pay for them.”

A rusty, discolored metal vending machine that is padlocked and no longer accepts the nickel required to purchase a notepad in the Arts and Behavioral Sciences building. (Kim McGill | The Union)

Lee and other members of the Student Associate Association also shared why free and private access is essential for transitioning and non-binary people who experience additional discrimination, barriers and safety issues.

Studio art major Mia Vargas says she forgot her period products, but found someone who could help.

“There were a few times in El Camino where they were in my car, but I forgot to bring them, so I had to go around and ask people,” Vargas said. “Fortunately, each time I found someone.”

Vargas said when you find yourself in a difficult situation at school, it might help if the toilets have menstrual products.

“Personally, I’ve never been to the nurse’s office here, and I don’t know if they give out free tampons or pads. It would be great if they did,” said studio art major Mia Vargas. “But I noticed that there were no tampon dispensers in the toilets here, and that’s a shame. When you get to that place where you really need them, it’s like an emergency, and they should be available.

Graphic design student Bianca Muñoz said most people don’t have spare change in today’s modern age.

“It would be really nice if the bathrooms in El Camino were stocked for free,” Muñoz said. “Especially with the cashless world, we don’t carry as much change.”

Faculty Coordinator of Student Health Services Susan Nilles said she is working alongside the Student Associate organization and El Camino College administration to develop new policies and procedures for greater health equity on campus.

“I recommended that we talk to students about where they want supplies,” Nilles said. “Students should have access where they already are in the privacy of a bathroom and through the programs they are part of.”

Susan Nilles, MSN, RN, FNP and student health services faculty coordinator, stands outside the student health center at El Camino College in Torrance, California on October 18, 2022. Nilles worked alongside the ASO and ECC administration to develop new policies and procedures for greater menstrual justice and health equity on campus, and says free menstrual products have long been available at the center.  “I recommended that we talk to students about where they want supplies.  Yes, the products should be at the health center, but students should also have access to where they already are in the privacy of a bathroom and through the programs they attend,” says Nilles.  Advocating for students&squot;  right to privacy while seeking health care, Nilles recounts his own experiences as a youngster whose parents would have
Faculty Coordinator of Student Health Services Susan Nilles stands outside the El Camino College Student Health Center on October 18. Nilles has worked alongside the Associated Student Organization and college administration to develop new policies and procedures for better access to menstrual products and says free products have long been available at the center. (Kim McGill | The Union)

Nilles said free menstruation products have long been available at the student health center.

Nilles has been a nurse since 2008 and has worked at El Camino College since 2016.

She acknowledged that many students are unfamiliar with the health center and likely won’t have the time to walk across campus to access supplies, especially in an emergency.

“It is essential that [El Camino College] stock basic supplies in areas where students want them,” Nilles said.

In addition to identifying the difficulty of finding products on campus, students expressed the anxiety they feel discussing their menstrual needs and experiences with others.

Studio art major Zamira Recinos said it was difficult to ask for menstrual products.

“[It’s] kind of nervous,” Recinos said. “Especially if you suffer from social anxiety or general nervousness around strangers.”

Recinos added that she had to ask for products.

“I had to ask around if I didn’t have my own, and I was also asked if I had any menstrual products as well,” Recinos said. “There’s never really any other option but to ask.”

Studio Art major Zamira Recinos in her Life Drawing I and El Camino College class on October 13, 2022 talks about the emotional stress of searching for menstrual health products.
Studio Arts major Zamira Recinos poses with her art in her Life Drawing class at El Camino on Oct. 13. menstrual products as well. There’s never really any other option but to ask, which is a little annoying. (Kim McGill | The Union)

BioMed Central, a clearinghouse medical research company, conducted a study of menstrual products in college students.

The data revealed that 14.2% of the students surveyed had not been able to purchase menstrual products in the past year and a further 10% had been unable to afford the products on a monthly basis.

The report found that many people “cannot afford menstrual health products, which can impact their mental wellbeing.”

Nilles wants students to use the health center to access free or very low-cost medication, contraception, preventive, primary and mental health care.

“Rather than dropping out of class all day to pay for bus, parking, co-pays and medications, students can access health care here on campus,” Nilles said. “We ask that you be as healthy as possible in order to be successful as a student.”

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