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SLU's Project Period Pioneers Campus Access to Menstrual Products


Fourteen thousand tampons and pads are about to make their way into restrooms around Saint Louis University’s campus as SLU students tackle an often-unspoken health need – access to menstrual hygiene products – close to home. 

Shanaya Shah and George Tharp

SLU junior Shanaya Shah (left) and senior G. Tharp (right) founded Project Period to make tampons and pads readily available to the campus community. Photo by Ellen Hutti

Thanks to the student-led Project Period, 22 dispensers filled with free menstrual hygiene products have been installed at sites around campus.

While new research by Anne Sebert Kuhlmann, Ph.D., and a team of SLU student researchers, points out the challenges low-income women in St. Louis face accessing menstruation-related supplies, the Billikens behind Project Period also want to ensure that students, faculty and staff have easy access to pads, tampons and wellness information while on campus.

“I believe that knowing about and being able to talk about your body is very powerful. It’s empowering,” junior Shanaya Shah, a health management major who will minor in women's and gender studies, said. “This is why I want to go into medicine.” She hopes to attend medical school after graduation and focus on women’s health and gender in health care.

Shah and senior G. Tharp co-founded Project Period in the fall of 2018. The pair became interested in menstruation education and period product access through their roles as co-senators to SLU’s Student Government Association (SGA).

Constituents had sent in stories about their own struggles with finding period products on campus. The pair confirmed the challenge that other students had faced finding products in their times of need through a survey that garnered over 100 responses and suggestions. Ninety three percent of the students who responded to the survey indicated that they wanted period products to be widely available on campus.

“One of our missions with this is that menstrual equity goes with creating a happier, healthier, more inclusive SLU community,” Tharp, a biostatistics major with minors in women's and gender studies and African American Studies, said. “The ability we have as students to create this change is remarkable and I think a lot of people who are students don’t realize that they have this great power to affect change.”

Tharp, who was recently accepted into Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health, was drawn to the issue because it highlights menstruation as a health equity issue that has received little attention until recently. Tharp, a member of the 2019 Spirit of the Billiken class, will seek a graduate degree centered on health equity issues and their impact on the LGBTQIA community.

“It is my belief that for public health interventions to be socially just, they must include those of us who are almost always forgotten,” Tharp said.

The pair developed Project Period, partnering with the national Aunt Flow project to bring free menstrual products to the SLU community. Aunt Flow helps campuses stock 100 percent natural cotton tampons and pads that are biodegradable and chemical-free. Ensuring the SLU community had access to environmentally-friendly period products lined up with Project Period’s wellness mission, its organizers said.

The SLU project held its first meeting in December 2018 and also received a Wellness Grant from the SGA to bring the products and dispensers to campus.

Student volunteers will monitor the dispenser sites and re-stock the supplies, Shah and Tharp said. Project members are developing a symbol to mark the dispenser sites.

Dispenser Locations

Once the dispensers and supplies are in place in the 11 sites around campus, the project will continue working on a complete business proposal to take to University leadership to ensure the initiative continues. Eventually, the project would like to have volunteers who would carry supplies with them and respond one-on-one to students in need. The project is also coming up with an events and outreach plan.

The Period Project group would also like to expand its efforts beyond SLU’s campus into partnerships with similar groups working in the St. Louis community.

“A huge goal of ours is education and empowerment,” Shah explained. “Knowing more about your body and how others view it really expands your world view.”

Saint Louis University is a Catholic, Jesuit institution that values academic excellence, life-changing research, compassionate health care, and a strong commitment to faith and service. Founded in 1818, the University fosters the intellectual and character development of more than 13,000 students on campuses in St. Louis and Madrid, Spain. Building on a legacy of nearly 200 years, Saint Louis University continues to move forward with an unwavering commitment to a higher purpose, a greater good.

 Story by Amelia Flood, University Marketing and Communications