The Minnesota State Community and Technical College is looking to make a big impact with small changes, and they are starting in an unlikely place—their public restrooms.
When Sean Anderson, Dean of Students at the Minnesota State Community and Technical College, was sent a promotional email from Aunt Flow, a company devoted to helping schools and businesses provide free menstrual products at their in-person locations, he immediately forwarded it to Madison Jansky, the Associate Director of Equity and Inclusion to see what she thought of the idea.
“We know there is a menstrual equity gap in learning environments. We know that almost one in five Americans have left or skipped school because they didn’t have access to period products. I’ve skipped class myself. So it just seemed like a no-brainer to try to make this happen,” stated Madison.
“We met with Bruce, Derrick, and Tom, our facilities supervisors who would ultimately be in charge of implementing this initiative, and I was concerned there might be some difficulties with changing of routines or adding additional work.
Instead, they were so supportive and gung-ho. It was all ‘When can we order, when can we start, this is definitely worthwhile.’”
To that end, the Minnesota State Community and Technical College started the initiative with the beginning of the current semester at all four of their locations (Wadena, Detroit Lakes, Fergus Falls, and Moorhead), providing free menstrual products in display boxes in all women’s and gender-neutral restrooms. While primarily benefitting students and staff, their campuses are open to the public, and MState hopes to also be a resource to those in the nearby community who may not have regular access to bathrooms, housing, or period products.
“Obviously not everyone who comes through our doors needs menstrual products,” continued Madison. “But for those who do, it makes a significant difference. It’s my job to think about who is being represented, who is being heard, how we can make things more equitable for everyone. As our society changes around us, we need to change with it. That can be something like re-examining outdated language in a text-book, but it also can be something like making sure our students don’t have to miss classes due to a lack of an expensive product.”
Providing free menstrual products in their women’s and gender-neutral bathrooms is only the first step in their initiative.
They also hope to replace the pay-forproduct dispensers currently gracing the walls of their public restrooms with new dispensers w
As a start toward that goal, the Minnesota State Community and Technical College applied for, and was gifted with, a $1000 grant from the Cass Clay chapter of the Awesome Foundation in October to assist them with the purchase of additional products to start the dispenser replacement portion of their project.
“We have to work it into our budget— with four campuses that is a lot of bathrooms! Of course, once we have completed the dispenser replacement step, the big goal is to have free menstrual products in all our restrooms on all our campuses, including the assigned men’s restrooms. We know that not everyone who was assigned female at birth identifies as such or uses the ‘women’s’ restroom. It’s important to us to make products available to the Trans and Non-Binary community as well, and normalize menstruation as something that happens to folks of all gender identities.”
In addition to selling products to schools and businesses, Aunt Flow (goauntflow. com) donates a menstrual product for each ten sold to an organization who provides them to people in need: including (914) Cares, Dignity Grows, Keeping Families Covered, Sylvia’s Sisters, Giving Hope & Help, and Period. org. Thirty of fifty states tax menstrual products, as they are deemed “nonessential” items, and they are not covered by government food programs. However, without them it is difficult for women to participate in work, school, and daily life activities.
“Free period products on campuses is something a lot of folks have shown an interest in and expressed a desire for. I’m just really glad we were able to get it done and bring the concept to all our MState campuses,” says Madison.
The Cass Clay chapter of the Awesome Foundation awards a $1,000 gift each month for awesome ideas of all sorts. Grant recipients do not need to be associated with a non-profit. Applications can be made at awesomefoundation.org/en/chapters/ cassclay.