SIUE’s Mensi Project will no longer have to rely on donations due to a bill signed by Gov. J.B. Pritzker on August 5 requiring public colleges and universities to provide free period products in all campus restrooms.
House Bill 641 is effective immediately and SIUE plans to fulfill it through the infrastructure created by the Mensi Project, which already has bags and baskets in women’s restrooms across campus.
English and women’s studies instructor Christy Ferguson created the Mensi Project after hearing students concerned over period products only being available in first floor restrooms. She said the bill will only lead to a few changes to the project.
“The Mensi Project will pretty much stay the same except we will actually receive products rather than having to ask for donations,” Ferguson said. “So that means that when I have student groups that can help, instead of them doing a donation drive, they'll take what I have, and they'll just go out and fill the bags. It also means that we are going to have bags in every single bathroom.”
After discussion with the Gay-Straight Alliance and transgender students and faculty members, the Mensi Project will be placing bags of period products in the men’s restrooms, including signage Ferguson designed to be more inclusive.
“[I wanted to make] sure people understand the reasoning for the project and that this is a human bodily function,” Ferguson said. “It's not something that is just for women, and that even not all women menstruate ... That has nothing to do with our bathroom choice.”
Ferguson said she understands some concerns about potential vandalism of bags in the men’s restrooms and it will be handled if it happens.
“I think that putting signage that is the same in both bathrooms is important. And I'm hoping that the way that it is worded, that will kind of skew some of the fear of the attacks on the project,” Ferguson said. “And if it happens, we will face it, and we will handle it, and we will repost and if it becomes a problem, then it will be something that will be addressed. It won't be something that is ignored. I promise that.”
Junior psychology and elementary education manager Hailee O’Dell of Glen Carbon, Illinois, is the president of Student Government and one of many who have praised the bill. She said she is thrilled and it has taken care of one of the initiatives she ran on.
“I love this bill that passed because one of my initiatives whenever I was running for president was to — we have the mensi project that was here on campus that was completely donation based,” O’Dell said. “So I wanted to use a portion of my budget to fund that so that it wasn't relying on other students' donations, but that's taken care of because there's no need anymore.”
Senior sociology major Julia Goren of High Ridge, Missouri, said she hopes this will lead to expansion into providing period products to the local community.
“This also means that, like those donations that were going to the Mensi Project, they don't have to stop because they can expand and bring them elsewhere,” Goren said. “But also, we can continue to support Support The Girls as well, because they take that stuff and go out into the community, like the metro St. Louis area.”
HB 641 was signed on campus along with two other bills. HB 155 requires the state to apply for a waiver from the federal government to allow recipients of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program and the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children to use their benefits to pay for period products and diapers. HB 310 requires all homeless shelters that provide temporary housing assistance to also provide free period products if they have the budget for it.
Ferguson said the bills still use gendered language and don’t address access to hygiene stations and many shelters will not have the funding for period products.
“I worked with the homeless population in St. Louis before and it's not just about having the products on hand. It's also about having somewhere where they can clean themselves up, about having a hygiene facility ready and available for them that is clean and prepared to do those kinds of things,” Ferguson said. “Also, these products are really expensive, and homeless shelters are often already strapped for funding.”
Ferguson said a lack of understanding of menstruation is another issue.
“The problem is that those who don't menstruate don't understand ... that everybody's body is different, not everybody has the ability to get what they need when they need it,” Ferguson said. “And if you think that a period emergency is not an emergency, then you've certainly never lived my life.”
Those interested in getting involved with the Mensi Project, including distributing period products to the men’s restrooms, can contact Ferguson at firstname.lastname@example.org.