I dragged my body to the restroom, eyes still glued shut. I got on the toilet, did my thing and — oh — there it is. I’m on my period.
It feels like a milestone: my first time menstruating in college. It’s only memorable because I thought I had bought everything off my freshman college packing list — turns out it was everything but menstrual products. I searched through the restroom for a heavy-flow pad, but I only found panty liners and tampons — two products I don’t use. I sighed, frustrated at myself for not anticipating this. Instead, I asked my roommate for a pad.
When I asked my friends about where to find menstrual products at Pomona College, they told me the Sustainability Office offers free ones. The Coop Store and Huntley Bookstore sell them too, I also learned. While I appreciated the idea of free products, I absolutely had no idea where they were — nobody pointed me in the right direction. I searched through the college’s website for any signs as to where exactly I could find them and didn’t find information. Was I supposed to play scavenger hunt to get a pad while I bled vicariously through Marston Quad?
My search isn’t an isolated experience. Why are condoms, dental dams and lube advertised freely in the halls without also adding pointers or directions to where menstrual products are? Don’t get me wrong, I wholeheartedly support the promotion of safe sex and sex positivity on campus; yet, the invisibility of normalizing menstruation irks me. In society, periods are seen as disgusting, shameful and embarrassing. There’s so much misinformation about an individual menstruating — ranging from invalidating feelings to only periods defining womanhood.
Menstruating in college shouldn’t be this hard, period.
So, let’s talk about period poverty and accessibility — not just at the Claremont Colleges. Period poverty is the inability to afford or access period products. This heavily affects low-income individuals who menstruate in the United States. Choosing between buying tampons or food is an issue many face. According to a study, period poverty affects 1 out of 10 women in college, and is found to be strongly linked to mental health issues such as depression.
It’s an underrepresented issue: There is little research done on period poverty and its effects. And unfortunately, most of the very few studies are gendered. We know that students already grapple with food insecurity and housing as well. Coupled with period poverty, it is understandable how these issues prevent individuals from performing well academically.
When I hear someone say to stock up on period products, I think about students in the Claremont Colleges and other private institutions who can’t afford to do so. I think about individuals who menstruate that miss class, experience the pain alone and use substitutes like rags. I think about how I can’t even control my menstruation and how people constantly frown upon discussions of periods as if they are unnatural and unclean.
At Pomona and all the Claremont Colleges, all period products should be free and accessible. The colleges shouldn’t be ashamed to advertise where to find them. At the bare minimum, having dispensers in the bathrooms or even halls would help students tremendously, preventing them from having to walk to an office to pick up free products with nothing to use for the trek there. Hell, even put some in academic halls. While free DivaCups are greatly appreciated, some individuals are more comfortable with one type of product over the other.
The good news is that Governor Gavin Newsom signed the Menstrual Equity for All Act of 2021. The bill requires California middle and high schools to provide menstrual products, especially in schools with 40 percent or more of the student population under the poverty line. The act also mandates public universities and colleges to do so. However, the key word here is “public.” The 5Cs are private institutions and therefore are not included in this funding and initiative. Don’t make me mention endowment and tuition funds again.
Regardless of our exemption from receiving most of our support from public funds, the Claremont Colleges and private institutions have other ways they could address period poverty. Student leaders could demand funding from administration and put the issue at the forefront of their agendas. Partnerships with organizations fighting period poverty and companies would also be beneficial to students. The student body could even pitch in to put period products in their residences.
We must first end the stigma around menstruation to tackle period poverty. To individuals who menstruate, your body is fine the way it is. You are not disgusting when you’re on your period, and your wellness matters. Student leaders, I know you are reading this, and I’ve seen your campaign initiatives on menstrual products. Let us see change.
Zeean Firmeza PO ’26 is from Miami, Florida. She enjoys drinking boba, playing video games and reading.