University to provide free menstrual products for most restrooms

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Kierra Frazier | Northern Star

NIU plans to convert the current dispensing machines for menstrual products in women’s restrooms so they won’t require money.

Kierra Frazier, Managing Editor

DeKALB – NIU plans to offer free menstrual products in restrooms across the university following recent legislation signed by Gov. J.B. Pritzker to remove the burden of “period poverty.” 

House bill 641, effective immediately, requires universities and community colleges in Illinois to provide free feminine hygiene products such as pads and tampons in campus bathrooms. Pritzker said that the legislation will enable many people to not have to choose between buying menstrual products or buying basic necessities.

John Heckmann, associate vice president of Facilities Management and Campus Services, said NIU plans to convert the current dispensing machines for menstrual products in women’s restrooms so they won’t require money.

“We can still use the infrastructure that we have in place and dispense the feminine hygiene products,” Heckmann said. “So, we’re going to be turning those dispensing machines to not require money and still provide those products for free in all of our public restrooms that we have.” 

Heckmann said there’s no set date the change in the restrooms will occur but building services are working to set it in place as soon as possible. 

Boards of trustees at colleges and universities will determine what funding is needed to meet the newly created requirement, according to the governor’s office. But, Heckmann said that NIU would have to see if there’s an increased demand for the products to see how much this will cost the university.

The Gender and Sexuality Resource Center accepts donations of unopened tampons and pads on an ongoing basis. Products are placed in bathrooms of the cultural resource centers and select locations across campus. (Zulfiqar Ahmed | Northern Star)

“Is there going to be some cost the university is going to absorb?” Heckmann said. “Yes. I don’t know how much that will be. We’re going to have to learn to see what the need is and what the demand is on the products. To be honest, we haven’t really seen a tremendous demand on the products in those dispensers in the restrooms now.” 

The university plans to start with offering free menstrual products in restrooms that currently have dispensers and will assess the needs of students before placing the products in gender-inclusive restrooms and men’s restrooms, Heckmann said. 

Providing free menstrual products to students at NIU isn’t a new idea, though. For the past four years, the Gender and Sexuality Resource Center has held “The Period Project NIU.” The project enhances awareness around the financial inaccessibility and burden that purchasing period products causes, said Molly Holmes, director of the Gender and Sexuality Resource Center.

The Gender and Sexuality Resource Center accepts donations of unopened tampons and pads on an ongoing basis. Products are placed in bathrooms of the cultural resource centers and select locations across campus.

“In addition to the financial burden, not all people who menstruate and have periods are women,” Holmes said. “We want it to be inclusive to the trans community as well because that’s also part of our mission, and we want to also destigmatize the very natural thing of having a period and make sure we’re gender inclusive.” 

Holmes called the recent legislation signed by Pritzker “exciting” and that it gives a chance for more students to get involved in helping end period poverty. 

“We already have that momentum here at NIU, and so this legislation really is just another piece of encouragement to not only bring attention to the work that we’ve already done but really to encourage people to continue supporting their NIU students,” Holmes said.