By Steven Monacelli

On October 7, student activists at the University of Texas at Dallas (UTD) celebrated a victory over an opponent that is rarely discussed but is all too well known by some students on campus: period poverty.

“Period poverty is essentially the concept that because menstrual products are way more expensive than they should be, people who are already struggling with paying for necessities like food will be choosing between wearing pads or tampons when they have their period and putting food on the table,” says Crista Thyvelikakath, a UTD student and organizer with the Period Project.

The statistics about period poverty are stark. Consider the following from an article published in February 2022 in the Journal of Global Health Reports: 16.9 million people in the United States who menstruate are living in poverty. Two thirds of those people could not afford menstrual products in the last year, with half of those having to choose between menstrual products and food. More specifically to UTD, 14.2% of menstruating college students experienced period poverty in the last year. 10% of menstruating college students experience it on a monthly basis.

Thanks to the efforts of student organizers with the Period Project like Thyvelikakath, menstruating students at UTD will no longer face that dilemma. In response to a campaign led by the Period Project the administration of UTD has agreed to place free menstruation products in all bathrooms on campus.

It all started in 2020 when a group of students formed the Period Project during the early months of the pandemic. They hoped to bring awareness to the issue of period poverty and quickly began to partner with other groups like the UTD Chapter of Deeds Not Words — an organization that focuses women’s social and economic opportunity, access to reproductive health, freedom from sexual assault, and equal representation — to improve access to menstrual products on campus.

Now seniors and looking toward graduation, several of the founders of Period Project wanted to push for a more permanent and sustainable solution. Beginning in the summer, they started planning a rally and letter campaign targeting the UTD administration. They demanded the free provision of menstrual products in all bathrooms on campus. Just days before the rally on October 7 was slated to occur, the administration contacted the student organizers to open discussions on how to move forward.

In an email sent after the meeting, Vice President and Chief of Staff of the University of Texas at Dallas Dr. Rafael Martín committed the university to providing menstruation products in bathrooms and formed an official working group to get it done.

“It is a cause for celebration, but it’s also just the very beginning,” Thyvelikakath told Dallas Weekly. “And the biggest challenge will be making sure that it’s actually implemented in a way that’s going to sustain long term.”

Thyvelikakath says the next steps include finding various vendors to supply the necessary products, establishing custodial contracts, and whatever else is needed to implement the program. In particular, Thyvelikakath notes that the products will be placed in all bathrooms, regardless of gender, and thereby will be inclusive to cisgender and trans people alike.

“We believe these menstrual products should be in every bathroom that supplies toilet paper,” Thyvelikakath says. “Just because it’s not an expectation that society has for restrooms doesn’t mean it’s not an expectation that we should have. Period products are not a luxury, they’re a necessity. And the administration has committed to sharing that goal with us as well, which we really appreciate.”

Steven Monacelli is an independent investigative journalist based in Dallas. He has been contributing to Dallas Weekly since 2021. He is also the publisher of Protean Magazine, a nonprofit literary publication.