Students of State Colleges Fight for Free Feminine Hygiene Products

Maddie Genoways, Staff Writer

Any person who has experienced menstruation knows the shame and fear that comes with being stuck in public without access to decent period products. Across the country, menstruation products are often treated as luxury items rather than necessities as crucial to a quality life as food and water.  

The rising cost of feminine hygiene leaves many women struggling with period poverty, and are forced to turn towards unsafe and unhygienic alternatives, or face absences from work and school. In the Nebraska state college system, students have begun to fight the stigma around menstruation and provide free products for anyone who finds themselves in need. 

According to a study from the University of Texas at Austin, the average box of tampons costs around $7, with most people averaging upwards of nine boxes per year. In another study conducted in 2021 by U by Kortex, two out of five Americans struggle to afford period products, an average which strongly correlates with the number of women living below the federal poverty line.  

Improper or extended use of period products can lead to a number of bacterial infections, including toxic shock syndrome, which can be fatal without immediate treatment. With statistics like these, it’s not surprising that many people are fighting for more affordable period products, whether it be through redefining them as healthcare essentials or simply lowering prices. 

Another roadblock to affordable feminine hygiene is the “tampon tax”, or the fact that in many states period products are taxed as luxury items rather than necessities. According to the Alliance for Period Supplies, only 23 states offer tax exemption for feminine hygiene products, while the remaining 27 tax them as luxury items.  

Nebraska is one of the most recent states to stop taxing period products, when the Legislature passed a bill exempting these products from use and sales tax in April of 2022. In the same bill, the Legislature voted to provide period products to female inmates in Nebraska detention facilities free of charge. 

In the year since Nebraska made its first few steps towards affordable period care, state college students have taken it upon themselves to provide for their communities.  

Several of Nebraska’s public state colleges maintain student-led efforts to provide free period products to campus-goers in need. The Universities of Nebraska at Omaha (UNO) and Lincoln (UNL) provide free products through a combination of student government and on-campus women’s centers.  

UNL’s Women’s Center is a campus institution that offers period products and pregnancy tests upon order. UNL works to support affordable reproductive care through their student-run Women and Gender Equity Center, where they also offer both free period products and pregnancy tests. 

At Wayne State College, student organizations have been working to keep campus stocked with free period products since November of 2022. The initial charge was led by the Alpha Psi class of campus sorority, Zeta Tau Omega, who offered products in almost every campus building. Zeta Tau Omega’s period drive is funded entirely on donations from the community and Feminine Hygiene Centers, like Access Period and Scensibles.  

Since Zeta Tau Omega’s initial move to break the stigma around menstrual care, the push has been joined in earnest by this year’s Student Senate, who passed the Feminine Hygiene Initiative in December. Senate President Carter Ossian described the program as “a concentrated effort to provide free hygiene necessities to students in need.”  

According to Secretary Daish Hoffman, the Senate provides “a basket full of high quality pads, tampons and liners in a variety of sizes in at least one ladies bathroom in every building on campus.”  

The program has been sustained throughout the school year by Hoffman, Senator Belle Vacek, and fellow committee senators, who have worked to keep up with refills every two weeks, resource allocation, feedback, and publicity through Campus PR.  

The Senate credits the initial idea for the program to Chadron State College, another public state college who instituted a similar feminine hygiene initiative in 2017.  

“The project grew from the initial idea we had taken away from our meeting with Chadron and Peru State Colleges into a widespread effort that we discovered a lot of people on campus really appreciated,” Ossian said. “Initially, we weren’t sure if there was a real need for this kind of program, but once we put out the first wave of baskets, we received such overwhelmingly positive feedback that we decided to maintain the project.” 

Ossian and Hoffman assure students that the Senate isn’t planning on stopping the Feminine Hygiene Initiative anytime soon.  

“We want to make sure students know this isn’t a one-time thing,” Ossian said. “We’ve proven that this kind of project can be sustained and mandated by the Campus PR and tech committees with a lot of success.”  

Though Ossian and Hoffman will both leave the Senate next term, they are working with the incoming Senate staff to allocate proper supplies and maintain the program indefinitely.  

“We’ve proven this is a need we have the ability and resources to fill, and as long as that need exists, we’ll keep providing for our community,” Hoffman said. The Senate is also considering adding male hygiene stations containing deodorants, toothpaste, and other general toiletries sometime in the near future. 

Going forward, the Senate hopes that the data it has collected over the course of the year will convince administrators at WSC to address feminine hygiene as a community issue.  

“Now that we’ve established that there’s a sincere need on campus for free period products, we’re hoping to bring this to the administration to try and get this recognized as a student health resource,” Ossian said. “Feminine hygiene products are obviously a much needed resource on campus, so why did we as students have to fight to put this together?” 

College students have been fighting for affordable period care on their own for years, and many are calling for administrators to take over feminine hygiene projects as a student health resource.  

Addressing feminine hygiene as a healthcare issue would allow state colleges to provide more inexpensive, higher quality products, and would free up time and resources for student governments to pursue further community projects.