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A year after action, period poverty persists

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OCTOBER 13, 2022

On Oct. 8, 2021, California passed Assembly Bill 367, or AB 367, which required all California public schools serving students in grades 6-12 to stock women’s and gender-neutral restrooms with free menstrual products. The bill also mandated that all California State University campuses and California community colleges stock menstrual products at a centralized location that is easy to access on their campuses. For the UC system, these mandates were only “encouraged.” 

While I think providing free period products to menstruating students during their adolescence is vital for the success of students everywhere, I’m confused and discouraged by the limited range of this bill. Students in public school do not stop menstruating when they arrive at college. Purchasing these products for ourselves does not get any easier either. A box of 36 normal tampons at Walgreens costs almost $12 before tax. For many students, college can be one of the first times they experience the full financial burden of adulthood. With the high costs of tuition, food, school supplies, transportation, housing and other basic needs rising by the day, how is it acceptable that menstruating students are burdened with yet another health cost?  

As a menstruating student in my fourth year at UC Berkeley, I can count the number of times I was able to easily find and access menstrual products on campus on one hand. Not only is this seriously inconvenient, it’s immensely frustrating given the exorbitantly expensive tuition UC Berkeley charges its students. 

State budget support for the UC system has decreased immensely since the 1980s. In 1986, state funds covered 86.8% of UC funding. As of 2020, 41% of the core funds of the UC system come from the state budget.  With declining state support, UC Berkeley has raised its tuition and fees exponentially. Tuition was free for all California residents until 1970, when the UC system implemented a $300 “educational fee” for in-state students. In the decades following, tuition and fees increased drastically for all students, reaching $1,296 by 1985, $4,354 by 1995 and $19,189 for continuing in-state students in 2022.  

But, how does this relate to UC Berkeley’s ability to provide basic needs products to its students? UC Berkeley charges students, both in state and out of state, more than $1,000 each semester in “Student Services Fees” and “Berkeley Campus Fees.” The fact that UC Berkeley refuses to allocate at least a small portion of this fee revenue to supporting menstruating students on its campus is unacceptable and extremely unjust. 

The impact of this blatant disregard for student needs is not distributed equitably, either. Low-income students are the most burdened by the lack of accessible products, which make up a sizable portion of the UC Berkeley’s student body. In 2020, 26% of UC Berkeley students received the Pell Grant, and 63% received some form of financial aid.  Government benefits, such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program and the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children, do not cover the costs of menstrual products. In turn, this forces students to often pay for their own menstrual products out of pocket. 

It is extremely unjust that the college students most impacted by this lack of access to basic needs products are those already most marginalized by academic institutions, including UC Berkeley. Unfortunately, they are the only ones forced to take on the additional burden of constantly advocating for these basic needs — which then benefit everyone. 

At UC Berkeley, all efforts to stock campus bathrooms with free menstrual products have been student led. Organizations like Happy Period, Generation Flow and the Coalition for the Institutionalization of Free Menstrual Products have been working towards equitably supplying our students with these products for years. While this is a testament to the wonderful potential of student organization and mobilization, the question remains: Why does our school fail to provide us with basic health products?

A year after the passage of AB 367, I have more questions than ever before. Why does a public institution that receives a sizable portion of its funding from the state not come under the purview of a statewide bill? This exemption is not a passive one. In fact, it is a demonstration of our legislature’s continual tendency to prioritize the needs of prestigious institutions and corporations over the needs of the young people in our state. It is unacceptable for California to tout itself as the shining star of progressive politics while even our progressive legislation disregards the basic needs of around half the population of our state. 

Without adequate support from our state, we turn to the institution that we pay to attend for basic needs support.  Easy access to menstrual products is essential for students’ holistic health and academic success. UC Berkeley must acknowledge the needs and efforts of students on our campus and support us in basic ways — especially after how much we shell out every year in tuition and fees to be here. Our students deserve free, quality menstrual products in every bathroom on campus. 

Olivia McHaney is a UC Berkeley undergraduate student. Contact the opinion desk at [email protected] or follow us on Twitter.

OCTOBER 13, 2022