Original article written by Sarah Logue
Senior Megan Handle is the current president of the University Student Senate. When this story began last fall, she was its Women’s Affairs Commissioner. And she was closely tracking a lack of supplies in the restrooms at Baker University Center.
‘Doing Our Job for Students’
Student Senate had committed to providing free period products in the bathrooms in Baker University Center and parts of Alden Library, but every time Handle looked for a pad or tampon, the dispensers were empty.
“I was like, this is something we are saying we’re doing and it’s not there,” Handle says. “We’re not really doing our job for students. So what’s going on?”
Tackling the Problem
“I started taking pictures every time I went into a bathroom and the dispenser was empty,” she says. “I was texting all my friends, ‘If you ever see an empty dispenser, send me a picture.’ I still have a collection of just empty dispensers on my phone.”
Handle proceeded to contact Aunt Flow for help working up an estimate for increasing supplies and ensuring the dispensers were stocked. She also started doing some of her own research into period poverty, a concept Handle found to be under-researched at the time and has since undertaken as part of her senior thesis.
Research has shown that lacking access to period products can have wide-ranging negative impacts on students, from decreased attendance to poor academic performance. Handle’s own research showed that nationally, 48% of students struggle to afford basic needs, including menstrual products. Many states, including Ohio, require that public schools provide free period products to menstruating students in grades 6-12.
Period poverty affects college students more, even more so if they’re from a marginalized background. [As part of their tuition and fees], students are paying for college and paying to live here, for food, for other things that are considered basic needs. They shouldn’t have to pay for period products if we say we’re supplying them here.Megan Handle
With a lot of persistence, Handle had succeeded in getting Facilities to restock the Baker dispensers more often. But by now, she had started asking even more questions: Why were the dispensers only in Baker? Why was Student Senate the only source of this funding?
“[Student Senate] should not be spending all of our budget on something that should just be available,” she recalls thinking. “The school is supposed to support all students. Let’s work on that.”
Handle started preparing to take a big idea to the University administration.
The Two Presidents
The president of the Student Senate meets regularly with the University president. With then-Senate president Dayna Shoulders’ permission, Handle crashed the February meeting—and crushed it. Armed with a PowerPoint deck with her research, Handle brought her case to the president.
She provided a budget proposal: Spend $236,820 once on dispensers for every bathroom on campus, with an annual investment of $42,000 to restock products. It was an effective argument, or at least President Sherman seemed to think so.
‘All the People. Everyone’
The evening after her meeting with President Sherman, Handle presented a five-page legislative document at the Student Senate hearing.
Student Senate rules require that every piece of legislation introduced has a primary sponsor and one secondary sponsor. Two—that’s the number of sponsors associated with any given bill. Handle brought 43 sponsors into the senate meeting that evening.
The measure passed, and since she already had verbal approval from President Sherman, things moved quickly from here.
The Bathroom Tour
Handle participated in every step of the process, which included sitting on the committee that ultimately selected the vendor who would provide the products. They chose Aunt Flow for its inclusive mission and organic products.
Over the summer, Handle and her mentor, Women’s Center assistant director Dr. Letitia Price, worked together to determine where to begin the installation process, but first, they needed to be sure that the dispensers would fit in all the restrooms.
This is how an unlikely trio—the Student Senate president, the assistant director of the Women’s Center, and the director of Facilities Management—came to be walking around campus on a sunny day in September, taking turns carrying a big metal period product dispenser. They even ran into the University’s new president, Lori Stewart Gonzalez, on College Green.
“First of all, I was like, I love that she can recognize me in the wild! That makes me feel so special. And I’m standing next to Letitia, who’s holding this dispenser. I was like, ‘We’re doing a bathroom tour. We’re not weird.’ I mean, maybe, but it was funny.”
The “bathroom tour” was productive, and Mack’s team installed dispensers in 15 buildings over winter break. They will continue the rollout in the coming months. Student Senate and the Women’s Center are planning a Period Party to celebrate their success.
Over a year of my life on this project, I call it my baby. It was my passion project. My whole heart and soul has gone into this.Megan Handle
Handle said that when this project began, she expected a much longer timeline—she thought dispensers might be installed a year or two after her own graduation in May 2024. The success of the project taught her some valuable lessons.
“You can do big, important things that will make a change in your community. I think it’s crazy to look back and see all that I was able to accomplish with my people,” says Handle.