Sanitary disposal boxes are a necessity in campus bathrooms

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Debbie Allen

A person holds period products.

By Derek Bos, Columnist

To better safeguard the privacy of everyone who visits campus,  NIU should implement sanitary disposal boxes or tiny waste bins in not just women’s bathrooms, but in all bathrooms, period. 

Sanitary disposal boxes allow for people to discreetly and sanitarily dispose of period products from within the safe haven of a bathroom stall. Without these metal boxes, one has to walk outside their stall and dispose of the products in a general trash can, effectively eliminating any option of discreteness. 

With the help of several of my pals we discovered that none of the bathrooms in the halls of Dusable, Gabel, Graham, nor Reavis had sanitary disposal boxes, nor did the Founders Memorial Library, Holmes Student Center, and Rec Center. Of course, not every single stall was checked, so while it’s technically possible that there could be stalls with sanitary disposal boxes, one thing is for certain: if they exist, they’re difficult to find. 

Perhaps a straw man argument could be made to explain why these locations lack sanitary disposal boxes. I’m much more curious to hear why the dorm bathrooms lack this basic necessity. The dorms are literally where people live; everyone deserves to feel comfortable in their own home. 

“We do not (have sanitary disposal boxes,)” said Neptune resident and first-year English major Cassie Kane. “We have a big trash bin by the sink that we throw period products away in. We would all like a tiny trash bin in the stalls though.”

There’s definitely a desire for this change here on campus, and I’m surprised this demand hasn’t been louder. My interest in this topic actually stems from the concern of Alana Young, a sophomore and communications major, who asked if I could help spread awareness. According to her and Kane, having sanitary disposal boxes or tiny little trash bins in the stalls is a fairly common practice in public environments where people routinely frequent, such as a university campus. 

Credit where credit is due, there are paper bag dispensers placed in the women’s bathrooms. This is a step in the right direction, as this addresses hygienic concerns of trashing period products, but it fails to preserve someone’s privacy, should they want it. 

While periods in general are a totally normal part of life, each and every person’s experience is going to be unique. Some people may want to keep their business private, which isn’t exactly possible if you have to step out behind closed doors to dispose of your period products in a regular garbage can. 

“It should be each person’s choice whether or not to talk about their period in a public manner,” said Ellis Heyen, a Gender and Sexuality Resource Center graduate research assistant. 

Heyen runs the Period Project at NIU.

While everyone would benefit from the addition of sanitary disposal boxes, underrepresented groups have the most to gain. 

“Conversation around periods in general is very stereotypical in how often it’s assumed that only women get periods. We must take into consideration underrepresented identities such as non-binary, and transpeople as they can also have periods,” Heyen said.

Privacy is especially valued by underrepresented identities such as non-binary and trans people who might not be ready or always comfortable to “out” themselves (publicly disclose their gender identity) as could be the case if they were seen nondiscretely disposing of period products.

Periods are far better understood and accepted in women’s bathrooms than in men’s. For some, privacy is directly proportional to their safety. Bluntly put, a lack of privacy can be dangerous for non-binary and trans people. As such, the importance of including not just women but everyone cannot be overstated. Privacy and safety are inalienable rights inherent to everyone.