Yale first started offering free pads and tampons in residential facilities three years ago. Now, students and staff are reflecting on the University’s ongoing efforts to promote menstrual equity on campus.
Since 2017, the Yale College Council has explored providing free menstrual products to students. Today, pads, tampons and condoms are primarily available to students in the basement laundry rooms of their residential colleges and in two entryways on Old Campus, with supplies provided by the Office of Gender and Campus Culture. Most recently, the Yale Women’s Center has announced a partnership with the YCC to expand period product accessibility on campus.
“We just want a really directed, concerted effort on the part of the University to make something that increases accessibility on campus, instead of an afterthought,” Theia Chatelle ’25, the political action coordinator for the Yale Women’s Center, said.
Unlike toilet paper, soap, paper towels or other personal hygiene essentials, period products are not commonly offered for free in campus restrooms. Moreover, the inflationary economic climate is exacerbating the cost burden of purchasing period products, inflicting an undue financial burden on people who menstruate.
As of June 9, for example, average pad prices rose 8.3 percent and average tampon prices rose 9.8 percent compared to last year’s prices, straining many budgets. In its 2017 fall survey, the YCC found that “the purchase of menstrual hygiene products posed a financial burden for approximately half of Yale students.”
Pads, tampons and condoms in residential colleges
Presently, Yale’s Communication & Consent Educators, or CCEs, are responsible for stocking residential colleges and Old Campus with menstrual products, including pads, tampons and liners.
There are currently 57 CCEs at Yale, spread across each of Yale’s 14 residential colleges. One CCE from each college is assigned the responsibility of distributing sexual health products in those same locations, such as internal and external condoms, lubricant, dental dams and other supplies.
Ryan Huynh ’23, a project coordinator for the CCE program, explained that the location varies by college, but that supplies are often kept in residential college laundry rooms in small baskets. On Old Campus, they are located in the laundry rooms in the basements of Farnam Entryway B and Bingham Entryway D.
The frequency with which the colleges are restocked with menstrual products is contingent on how often products are used.
“From my experience, supplies are restocked about once every one to two weeks, but this can be adjusted depending on the rate of consumption,” Huynh wrote to the News. “The goal is for these baskets to be stocked at all times.”
According to Huynh, there are other spaces beyond the residential colleges where menstrual products are available.
These include the Yale Women’s Center and Yale Health, who have, according to Huynh, “similar programs and resources with respect to the distribution of free menstrual products on campus.”
Yale College Council partners with Yale Women’s Center
In the Yale College Council’s Oct. 2 meeting, the YCC approved a $500 partnership with the Yale Women’s Center to Strengthen “quality and accessibility of women’s products across campus.”
In an email to the News, YCC President Leleda Beraki explained that the YWC reached out a few weeks into the school year requesting this funding for menstrual and contraception products.
“The YWC sent the YCC an itemized list of products they intended to purchase with the cost totalling to $500,” Beraki wrote. “Whether this is enough to achieve their goals for the year, we can’t really speak to. The YWC has a much better idea of what they need and how often! Our only role in this was to fill a need that was asked of us.”
Per Beraki, the YWC products will be available to both Yalies and New Haven residents, in accordance with the YWC’s timeline of purchasing and providing the products.
Chatelle expressed concern about the lack of accessibility for menstrual products in student restrooms. In particular, Chatelle referred to the current system as a “stopgap approach.”
”No one really uses [the products provided in residential college basements] because it’s in a very awkward place,” Chatelle said. “It sort of creates this further stigma – why are you putting it in the corner of the basement in the laundry room?”
The Yale Women’s Center, located in the basement of Durfee Hall, is “staffed all week by student volunteers, who can offer support, advice, and free dental dams and condoms,” according to the website for the Office of LGBTQ+ Resources. The YWC’s objective in working with the YCC, Chatelle explained, is to provide students with access to higher quality menstrual products than those that are provided in the residential colleges.
In an email to the News, Interim Director of the Office of Gender and Campus Culture, or OGCC, Eilaf Elmileik wrote that the placement of the products was decided in 2018, when the YCC first began working on a program to make menstrual products more available on campus.
“If there are concerns or feedback about this aspect or others, I’d be glad to talk further with anyone interested,” Elmileik wrote. “In my work with OGCC, I meet weekly with two members of the Women’s Center, and I have also let them know that I’m happy to continue this conversation.
Chatelle expressed concerns that the currently available products in residential colleges are not of sufficient quality.
“Condoms [are] what everyone comes to the Women’s Center and tells us that they want,” Chatelle said. “The multicolored condoms, no one uses because you can go to the laundry room and see that they might have been there for eons.”
Chatelle hopes to use the $500 provided by the YCC to make higher-quality products more easily available to students. But the YWC also hopes to expand this work, with YCC support.
Beraki explained that the YCC plans to assist the YWC by supporting proposal writing and presentation to administration, particularly around their goals to make Plan B more widely available and to offer better-quality brands of menstrual and pregnancy resources on campus.
Chatelle compared efforts for accessible sexual health products at Yale to the programs of peer institutions — such as Middlebury and Harvard — who provide products to students in restrooms at no cost.
In 2017, Middlebury College converted 54 tampon dispensers on campus to “free-dispensers.” Additionally, since 2019, a variety of menstrual and sexual health products have been provided in freshman and sophomore dorms at Middlebury. Similarly, at Harvard, in fall 2017, the College Council allocated $1,000 for a pilot program in freshman dorms, which was expanded to four upperclassmen houses by the end of that year.
“Now we’re sort of evaluating different policy proposals [with the YCC],” Chatelle said. “The ultimate goal would be to push the university to provide menstrual products in all of the bathrooms on campus.”
Menstrual products in other campus locations
These ongoing efforts to offer period products in student restrooms are reminiscent of initial proposals promoting menstrual equity – even before the CCEs’ involvement.
“The dispensers in the bathrooms have long been difficult to support,” wrote Melanie Boyd, Yale College Dean of Student Affairs, “and so the YCC chose to focus on the residential colleges and Old Campus instead.”
According to Boyd, the YCC began working on a project to make disposable menstrual products more available in 2018. The program was designed to supply free menstrual products in each residential college and on Old Campus, with the support of former Yale College Dean Marvin Chun and the heads of the colleges.
A pilot run occurred in the spring of 2019, organized by different configurations of students and staff in each college, which resulted in 14 different processes for the YCC to keep track of.
In the fall of 2019, the YCC asked the Office of Gender and Campus Culture if the CCEs could distribute menstrual products along with the condom supplies, to which the CCEs agreed to try out. Over time, the OGCC has taken over the ordering process and made the system simpler.
Beyond the residential colleges, Graduate & Professional Student Senate and the Women Faculty Forum initiated its program to place free period products in Sterling Library restrooms. Rather than rely upon students to restock baskets or bags outside frequently visited spaces, it primarily relies upon period product dispensers installed directly in bathrooms.
Accessibility in Sterling -– and around campus -– is discrepant. Often, these dispensers are present but unstocked or broken.
The News visited 10 different bathrooms across five campus buildings on Oct. 21. One of the 10 offered menstrual products.
Huynh encouraged students with questions or concerns to contact the CCEs assigned to their residential college.
The Yale Women’s Center is generally open from Sunday to Thursday during the evenings.