With a newly enacted California law now in place for the 2022-23 school year, all public colleges and universities must have free menstrual products in restrooms. However, private schools and universities like USC are not impacted by the legislation. While USC’s Undergraduate Student Government (USG) has approved an initiative to ensure all USC buildings have free menstrual products available, the logistics of the project are still being ironed out.
That’s where the Viterbi Graduate Student Association, or VGSA, comes in.
VGSA is a student-run organization dedicated to addressing the needs and concerns of graduate engineering students. Members of the organization say the idea to place menstrual products in restrooms at the USC Viterbi School of Engineering was sparked by students who realized there was an unmet need on campus when it came to providing menstrual products.
“I was noticing that there was this trend where few bathrooms had period products, and most did not,” said Shahd Bawarith, a USC Viterbi Ph.D. student studying biomedical engineering and VGSA’s current president. “The ones that did have them were not stocked consistently. It made us nervous because, what if we needed these products and didn’t have time to go to CVS?”
THE PERIOD PROJECT
With the desire to make a change at the forefront of conversation, VGSA created an initiative entitled The Period Project in November of 2021 – to provide access to period products while encouraging healthy conversations around menstruation through education. When the idea for The Period Project was first created, Bawarith was a senator in the organization. She participated in the implementation of the initiative and says The Period Project is an important step in addressing the needs of an increasing population of women in STEM at USC Viterbi.
The Period Project is fully funded by the USC Viterbi School of Engineering. With the use of technology on Google Maps, users can see exactly where bathrooms with menstrual products are located.
Currently, USC Viterbi students can find free menstruation products in the first-floor women’s restroom of Ronald Tutor Hall and Olin Hall, as well as the Science and Engineering Library’s first-floor gender-neutral restroom and second-floor women’s restroom.
For Niraj Ganesh, a USC Viterbi graduate student studying product development engineering and VGSA’s vice president of treasury, The Period Project brought back feelings of familiarity as Ganesh previously helped create a similar initiative at his undergraduate alma mater, UC Berkeley.
“I pitched a similar idea [at Berkeley] and it had been implemented there,” said Ganesh.”So I thought, why don’t we do this at USC? Adding the technology aspect to this initiative is something that is unique.”
The implementation of the project did not come without its fair share of challenges, however. VGSA members say the process required intricate logistical details and an extensive amount of planning.
“One obstacle we had was just the logistics of keeping them stocked,” Bawarith explained. “It took us a couple of months to figure out if facilities should stock them, or if we should have a team stock them. Who’s purchasing them? How would they get reimbursed, etc?”
Another difficulty VGSA faced was understanding the scope of their project and specifically how to approach discussion on the topic of menstruation.
“Menstruation is a very touchy subject, but it’s also a very important thing that we should talk about,” says Ganesh. “One of the biggest [obstacles] was the concern of how in-depth we should get with our project because we didn’t want to have such a broad scope that would make it so hard for us to actually achieve anything.”
Gender-based price discrimination tactics like the Pink Tax have contributed to greater disparities for women in need of menstrual products. Amongst those in need are college students, a group who often don’t have the resources or can’t help themselves. According to Forbes, 1 in 10 college students can not afford menstrual products.
“It is very important for us to keep pushing this project now more than it was last year,” Bawarith says. “I think it is a human right to have period products in bathrooms. This is not a luxury. It is just like stocking the toilet paper, stocking the soap, just add the period products in the bathroom, it should be that simple.”
VGSA members are now looking ahead to future goals set for The Period Project – like adding additional restrooms to the map, restocking products more frequently, and even starting conversations around menstruation to destigmatize the topic through events held on campus.
“We would like to host some events to help people really understand what the menstrual process is, and to destigmatize that conversation,” said Nora Li, a USC Viterbi graduate student studying analytics and VGSA’s vice president of finance.
The USC Viterbi School of Engineering is currently the only school across USC to offer free menstrual products in its buildings. Beyond making sure that the needs of USC Viterbi students are met; VGSA hopes this is just the beginning of a campus-wide movement to provide free menstruation products.
“We are looking for longevity with this project. The goal is to ensure the longevity of this entire initiative, so future generations can come and benefit from it. We hope that other schools within USC want to join us in facilitating to make this a university-wide initiative,” said Bawarith.
Published on September 28th, 2022
Last updated on September 30th, 2022