Menstrual Products Are Not A Student Responsibility. Period.

Menstrual Products Are Not A Student Responsibility. Period.

Everyone with a menstrual cycle has been there: that ‘oh crap’ moment when you get your period unexpectedly. On my third day at MSE, that was me. I approached the “pad vending machines” that hang in the bathroom and twisted the lever, expecting a pad or tampon to drop, yet nothing came out. Crap. Without a friend or a familiar face to track down in the hallway, I headed down to the nurse’s office but was met with a surprising response when I asked for a pad: “No no, I’m sorry, I ran out. Maybe ask Mr. Zara?” The world history teacher I met two days ago? Confused, I headed to Ms. Ortiz, who, empty-handed, directed me to Ms. Patterson. And finally, in the bottom drawer, shoved in with a bunch of papers and folders, were a few pads. Ms. Patterson kindly handed me one and said; “I’m sorry I don’t have anything else.” 

At that moment, I was just grateful I wouldn’t have to do a make-shift toilet paper situation, but I was left with a little embarrassment, a lot of frustration, and one lasting question: How could this be so difficult? I soon realized that my situation wasn’t an anomaly, but the norm. In the three years I’ve been here, the sanitary dispensaries at MSE have never been stocked aside from the occasional pads left on top. 

Easy access to free menstrual products is a necessity, especially in public high schools. It is arguably just as important as providing free lunch in the morning or lending computers to students who don’t have them. It is not-so-arguably even more important than funding clubs, sports teams, or even the newspaper you’re holding right now.

In fact, under a Public Health Law passed in July of 2018, public middle and high schools are legally required to provide free menstrual products in the bathrooms. A 2021 study from the non-profit PERIOD found that 1 in 4 students who menstruate experience period poverty — the lack of access to safe and hygienic products — and 4 in 5 teens have reported missing class because they did not have easy access to period products. New York state senator Iwen Chu, a leading advocate for period equity, said, “Menstruation is not a choice, but removing the barrier to product access is.” Though there is no way to know the exact number of MSE students relying on school menstrual products, nearly 40% of students at MSE are economically disadvantaged, putting them at risk of period poverty. 

The inconsistent supply of menstrual products in the girls’ bathroom has led to student groups and class presidents taking the issue upon themselves. Last year, sophomore president Henry Dahl (‘25) and student equity leader Jazmine Chavez  (‘25) provided and self-funded menstrual baskets in every bathroom. These baskets were stocked regularly with high-quality tampons, pads, and even hair-ties. “Constantly we were promised by class presidents that this would be an initiative taken care of and he was one of the class presidents at the time so I offered to help out.” Jazmine explained. “We bought all the products ourselves. Our idea was to pay for it in the beginning and slowly convince the school to do so.” 

When I talked to Mr. Zara, he said that the dispensaries were put in by the college, but were not meant to be stocked by CCNY or the school. He explained that the school opts to purchase higher quality maxi-pads and tampons for students instead of relying on the uncomfortable and unpopular menstrual products provided for free by the DOE. Mr. Zara said these products can be found in the nurse’s office and Dr. Bernardo’s office. But even if these products exist somewhere, students and teachers shouldn’t have to struggle to search them out. “It should not be that you have to raise a hand in class, to be excused, to go to the nurse to get a pad. It’s a basic right like the same way toilet paper is provided in the bathroom and it should be accessible,” said Ms. Santana, who led a menstrual product initiative at her old school. 

Students have continued to advocate for better solutions. At the beginning of this school year, senior Charlotte Almond worked with Mr. Zara to get high quality, school-funded period products in the girls bathroom. These products were successfully ordered by the PTA and Charlotte was restocking them weekly on her own until college season hit, making it difficult to do weekly checks and restocks. 

For a while, the initiative took a stand-still; the sanitary baskets Henry and Jazmine provided were removed, leaving only the empty pad dispensaries. However, just a few weeks before spring break when the sanitary baskets reappeared, this time courtesy of the Student Equity Team. “This first batch was funded by me and Aisha,” Jazmine explained. “They were of considerably lesser quality than last year just because we realized that we can’t keep spending so much money.”

Though the student-provided sanitary baskets are a temporary solution (and one that I, on behalf of the girls bathroom, am very thankful for), it is not the responsibility of students to self-fund and restock menstrual products in the bathroom. This responsibility shouldn’t lie on one teacher, either. Just as male students are not expected to supply their own toilet paper, female students should not bear the burden of restocking or funding menstrual products. 

Despite concerted efforts from both students and staff, the issue of accessible menstrual products at MSE still persists, primarily due to logistical hurdles rather than a lack of support. “The issue is not with HSMSE specifically, and the administration has been great about supporting students pushing for period product access,” Charlotte explained. “In my experience, the barrier was not teacher support or funding, but time.” 

Ms. Santana, who is also the advisor for HSMSE’s Student Equity Team, has taken on this initiative with student equity leaders, such as Jazmine and Aisha. “I think it’s great that the students identified this as an issue. As an equity issue. We are trying to navigate now: how do we get these products?” 

Perhaps the most effective solution is a collaborative effort between students and administration. By implementing a QR code system in the bathrooms, students can easily report when products are out of stock. With administrative support, Student Equity leaders and National Honors Society members could ensure these baskets are consistently maintained and filled. And a staff member or the nurse could be the point person to make sure standstills don’t happen again. 

Our school community must address this issue with the urgency and commitment it deserves. Continuous access to menstrual products is not just an inconvenience; it’s a matter of equity and basic necessity. By working together, we can establish a reliable system that guarantees no MSE student has to face the embarrassment and frustration of lacking essential menstrual products. As Jazmine puts it, “It shouldn’t be the students’ responsibility. We’re making progress, but it needs to be a lot faster.”

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