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#OTGYpsi: EMU and Ypsilanti District Library work at 'Changing the Cycle' of menstruation stigma with free feminine intimate care products


Concentrate Ann Arbor

Rylee Barnsdale's Feature Article: "A basic human right": Ypsi organizations work to expand free access to menstrual products

EMU Changing the Cycle

EMU Changing the Cycle Contact Info


Josh Hakala: You are listening to 89 one WEMU. I'm Josh Hakala, and this is On the Ground Ypsi. It's a program intended to bring you the stories of the Ypsilanti community. And we bring you On the Ground Ypsi in partnership with the reporting team at Concentrate Media. Today, we are going to talk about some efforts by the Ypsilanti District Library and Eastern Michigan University to reduce the stigma around menstruation and the products that come with it by making them more accessible. Today, I'm joined by Concentrate Media reporter Sarah Rigg, whose online news site is reporting on this topic. Sarah, thanks so much for being with us and filling in for Rylee Barnsdale.

Sarah Rigg: Thanks for having me, Josh.

Josh Hakala: And joining us in the studio is Jesse John. She is the program manager for EMU's Changing the Cycle program that aims to end what they call "period poverty" on campus by making period products available for free across the campus. And thanks so much for joining us, Jesse.

Jesse John: Yeah, thank you for having me.

Josh Hakala: So, Sarah, Rylee wrote this article for us. And a few years ago, Governor Gretchen Whitmer passed a bill package that addressed an issue that I'm certain most men didn't realize was happening. But I'm sure there are a fair amount of women who weren't aware of this: the financial aspect of period products. Can you tell us about that?

Sarah Rigg: Sure. Well, you know, certain necessities of life are not taxed because they're acknowledged as necessities of life. But up until a couple of years ago, you had to pay tax on tampons and pads and other menstrual products. So, it's really, you know, a matter of equity since about half of the population use these products at some point during their life. And also, I think it was on our mind recently, because we'd seen a couple of efforts in our area. And I want to say that the City of Ann Arbor has recently done something around this issue as well.

Josh Hakala: Something that was very surprising in 2021, actually, I think, is when the bills were signed and put into place. And now, yeah, you're right. Ann Arbor has also instituted similar policies. And can you talk a little bit about, like, the lack of equity there is with that, but also just the day-to-day needs and access too. I mean, they are needs.

Sarah Rigg: Sure. Absolutely. I mean, if you have a professional job, you need to be taking care of your basic human needs. If you think about going to work and them not providing you with toilet paper, you had to bring your own toilet paper. And that would seem weird, but it seems perfectly natural to go somewhere where they don't provide menstrual products. And you can be surprised sometimes. It's pretty hard to have a professional life when you're going to be sabotaged and don't have access to what you need. And these things are not cheap, especially if you want to get good quality products.

Josh Hakala: I think, during the bill process, they said that it costs an individual as much as $4800 over the course of their lifecycle. So, that's not nothing.

Sarah Rigg: It's not.

Josh Hakala: So, the Ypsilanti District Library has a pilot program where they are making menstrual products available free of charge. Can you tell us a little about that?

Sarah Rigg: So, they started at the Michigan Ave branch and then eventually expanded to all three branches. They were originally just going to offer them in women's restrooms, but they have comment cards at the library and, from patron feedback, decided to offer them in the male restrooms and the unisex bathrooms as well. I'm sure that Jesse could talk a little bit more about the rationale about that, but, I mean, that could be anything from taking the stigma away from menstrual products. Men just might be curious and feel like they're not allowed to talk about it or look at them. And so, that gives them a chance to look at it all the way up to somebody being a trans person and happening to use that restroom, but needing those products to somebody bringing some home for their little sister because, you know, they're having, you know, a budget shortage that week. So, I mean, there's lots of different reasons why you might want to have those in more than just the women's restroom.

Josh Hakala: So, Jesse, tell me about what Eastern Michigan University is doing in your program.

Jesse John: For sure. So, as of about 2021, Eastern Michigan University has had a program called Changing the Cycle that provides free pads and tampons across campus. As mentioned, they're also in the men's room. And this is for a myriad of reasons. For some, it might be "I need to grab some products for my friends or for me. And I don't identify as a woman or anything like that." We want to make sure that it is accessible in an inclusive way. So, that's why we've been putting them in, like, all kinds of bathrooms and all kinds of spaces to make sure that everyone that needs them, regardless of their gender identity or position, because this is obviously open to not only students but faculty, visitors, anyone on campus has access to what they need when they need it for their menstrual health.

Josh Hakala: And when did this get started here on Eastern's campus?

Jesse John: Yeah. So, there's been some efforts in the past to try to get something like this rolling. But this EMU Changing the Cycle really stuck around 2021--so around like the winter of 2021. It started with some social work interns here at Eastern that partnered with Swoop's Pantry, which is our food pantry here on campus, to kind of put this together and get the ball rolling.

Josh Hakala: Is this something that we have seen at other college campuses?

Jesse John: So, I know that this is not the first program of its kind at some universities. This is, like, an intrinsic part of their janitorial service in the same way that our custodial workers will refill the paper towel or the toilet paper. Many universities just have dispensers that are there and refilled by, like, the cleaning services that they use. I know that many initiatives like this are getting started. I actually was reached out to by one of the residence life officers at Saginaw State University about starting something similar. So, I know that this initiative is growing, and it's really exciting to see.

Josh Hakala: You're listening to On the Ground Ypsi on WEMU. I'm joined by Concentrate Media's Sarah Rigg. And joining us in studio is Jesse John. She's the program manager for EMU's Changing the Cycle program. And what is surprising about this is that it has taken this long for this to become a thing that is just an obvious availability in all restrooms. And yet, here we are in 2023, and it's starting to really take hold. It really isn't a massive cost to make this happen. But schools like EMU are already taking this on.

Jesse John: Yeah, absolutely. It's financially compared to the amount of money that the school spends annually. This is a very small portion to support a program like this. It's also, meanwhile, to point out, that in about the span of a month, EMU Changing the Cycle goes through about 600 menstrual products. So, a combination of pads and tampons throughout the campus, which leads to about 7200 products a year. So, it's definitely a needed thing. I know as well that Swoop's Pantry gives out full packages instead of just like the 1 to 1 kind of like vending style that Changing the Cycle does throughout the campus. So, I know that that is in great use as well. So, the need is definitely there. And what we're trying to mitigate here is, like, the devastating decision that some people have to make between providing for their basic needs and their menstrual health and getting pads or fueling their car and getting the food that they need for the week.

Josh Hakala: Yeah. And you talked about the financial burden that is part of it but also just the overall stigma behind menstruation. And can you talk a little bit about how just making them readily available is just helping in that?

Jesse John: Absolutely. So, it's part of our culture that it's menstruation is one of those things that everyone knows about, but the amount to which they know and their willingness to talk about it really greatly varies. So, you get those situations where someone is in need of a menstrual product, scared to ask for it, not sure where to get it, or having to do things like miss school or work because of a lack of access to these things. And it's just a hard thing to talk about because it has become such a private sphere issue for people that menstruate.

Sarah Rigg: I was just going to say something along the same lines that I feel really grateful that our editor, Patrick Dunn, doesn't bat an eye when we pitch story ideas like, "Let's do something about the pink tax and talk about tampons," or "Why don't we do something about breastfeeding?" He was like, "Yeah. Weren't they doing something in Ann Arbor?" So, he knew all about it anyway. So, yeah. These tend to be collaborative ideas that we come up with today and kind of ping pong them around and come up with it. And this really seemed like it was up our alley, since our organization is heavily focused on people providing solutions to community problems. So, here are two great examples.

Josh Hakala: It seems like once you get into college, obviously a whole new world, but we're starting to see more of that even at the high school level and even down in the middle school level, just reducing that stigma and just making it more of a normal thing as kids grow up. And then, by the time they get to college, maybe it's not such a big deal.

Jesse John: Yeah, absolutely. And even for people that don't menstruate, it's important that we reach a level of comfort talking about it, because it's not going away. It's part of our lives. And even if you don't menstruate, I can guarantee that you know someone that does. And it's important that you still know about these resources and that you're still comfortable enough to talk about it and support other people when they need it in those situations.

Josh Hakala: Does your program provide any additional resources for that awareness or for that education?

Jesse John: Yeah. So, on occasion, we'll do advocacy-centered events that surround themes like expressing yourself, getting in tune with your cycle, and just kind of supporting that dialog and leaving space for conversations like this to happen. Like, "I had this experience while I was on my period." And someone could be like, "Yeah, yeah! I had something similar," just so we're kind of breaking down those barriers because the first step in destigmatizing something is just talking about it and having that space and that environment in which you can safely do so.

Josh Hakala: So, how can people get involved with Changing the Cycle?

Jesse John: So, that's a really great question. Thank you. One of the many ways that you can get involved with EMU's Changing the Cycle program is if you're in a space that has one of our dispensers or one of our baskets and you notice that it's empty, you can email EMU, underscore, changing the cycle at emich dot edu to let us know. Our dispensers and baskets are regularly checked, but we're a small team of volunteers and we do what we can. And, sometimes, it happens. And it's lovely when we're made aware, so we can address it as soon as possible. Another way that you can get involved if you're a student on Eastern's campus is to become an ambassador, which is what we call our amazing volunteers that are on the ground, refilling the products, and really working for that awareness and advocacy.

Josh Hakala: Jesse John is the program manager for EMU's Changing the Cycle program and Concentrate Media's Sarah Rigg. Thanks so much to both of you for stopping by today.

Sarah Rigg: Thanks, Josh.

Jesse John: Yeah, thank you.

Josh Hakala: If you would like to listen to past episodes of On the Ground Ypsi or would like to listen to an extended version of today's interview, you can find it on our website at WEMU dot org. This is On the Ground Ypsi I'm Josh Hakala, and this is 89 one WEMU FM, Ypsilanti. Public radio from Eastern Michigan University.

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Josh Hakala is the general assignment reporter for the WEMU news department.
Sarah has been involved in journalism since she began producing a one-page photocopied neighborhood "newspaper" in grade school, later reporting for and then editing her high school paper. She has worked on staff at Heritage Newspapers and the (now defunct) Ann Arbor Business Review and has written as a freelancer for various publications ranging from The Crazy Wisdom Journal to the News-Herald to AnnArbor.com. She began writing for Concentrate in February 2017.
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