Every week, Students for Reproductive Justice (SRJ) stocks a number of women’s, men’s and gender neutral bathrooms on campus with menstrual hygiene products only to frequently find the products in the men’s and gender neutral bathrooms strewn out, flushed down the toilet, stuck to the walls and ceilings or gone altogether.
The free pads and tampons were added to select men’s, women’s and gender neutral bathrooms on Loyola’s Lake Shore and Water Tower campuses last spring, according to Amy Al-Salaita, a 21-year-old junior at Loyola and one of the SRJ members in charge of the project.
“It doesn’t matter what bathroom you use or what gender you identify with, if you menstruate you menstruate, and you need those products provided to you,” Al-Salaita, a political science and international studies major, said.
SRJ — which is unaffiliated with Loyola — started the project after the university opened up an opportunity for students to apply for the student innovation fund. The student innovation fund is a part of Loyola’s Plan 2020 — an initiative which gives students a chance to propose projects promoting student success, social justice in academics, multidisciplinary partnerships and engagement with neighborhoods surrounding campus, The Phoenix reported.
Al-Salaita said the products began to disappear quickly in large quantities from all the campus bathrooms in the first few weeks of the project, but it’s unclear who was removing them.
“We didn’t really have any explanation for it,” Al-Salaita said.
She said SRJ met with staff from facilities — the department on campus which handles maintenance — to ensure employees knew not to remove the products from the restrooms.
Al-Salaita said the issues have been recurring and recently been getting worse in the men’s and gender neutral bathrooms, which some transgender and gender nonconforming (TGNC) students might be using. She said the products have continued to go missing and there’s a “clear difference” in the state of the products between the men’s and gender neutral and women’s bathrooms — where issues haven’t occurred as frequently.
Natalie Burdsall, a first-year and one of the members of SRJ who stocks the items in the bathrooms, said she’s mainly noticed the problems in the men’s restrooms.
“In the men’s restrooms, almost every week, the pads and tampons are stuck on the mirrors or taken out or destroyed,” the 19-year-old political science and economics double major said.
Burdsall said the non-disposable baskets SRJ puts the products in have also repeatedly been stolen from the men’s bathrooms, so SRJ began using cardboard boxes instead.
Last semester, SRJ members who stocked the bathrooms started to notice the products were being tampered with in buildings on campus, according to Al-Salaita.
“[Stockers] were telling me that they would find the pads on the ceiling or the products would be unwrapped or just everywhere,” Al-Salaita said.
While Burdsall said she hasn’t seen the damaged products herself, she said she’s been stopped multiple times by people who clean the bathrooms on campus.
“The women cleaning the bathrooms have told me that although they do appreciate what we’re doing, almost every week they have to clean the men’s bathrooms because the pads and tampons are stuck all over the place or completely destroyed,” Burdsall said.
Most recently, the group has been contacted about the products causing housekeeping problems in the men’s bathrooms at the Information Commons (IC), according to Al-Salaita.
Erica Ramos, the overnight supervisor at the IC, emailed SRJ early this month and said there were issues with the products being placed in the toilets in the men’s restrooms. Ramos said the products were causing clogs and putting a strain on “housekeeping workers” who have to remove the clogs by hand.
“I haven’t heard much updates aside from signage being posted in the stalls about proper disposal of products into the trash receptacles specifically and not the toilets,” Ramos said in an email to The Phoenix.
Evangeline Politis, a spokesperson for the university, said in an email to The Phoenix there haven’t been any requests for maintenance for the issue placed with facilities.
Dean of students Will Rodriguez, who’s working with a potential name change process for students at Loyola who are TGNC, said in an emailed statement to The Phoenix he thinks the reported behaviors are concerning.
“They do not reflect the ideals and practices of the overwhelming majority of students who live by our Jesuit values and the three tenants of the Student Promise,” Rodriguez said. “If enough information arises, we will certainly address the matter directly with the students involved.”
Al-Salaita said the products being messed with disappoints SRJ members because of the amount of work they put into the project every week. She said it limits access for people who need the products but might not feel comfortable getting them on their own.
“No matter how many posters we put up, no matter how many posts we make on our social media page [to educate people about the project’s purpose], we just can’t get it to stop and it feels like it’s getting worse,” Al-Salaita said.
Al-Salaita said members of SRJ had a meeting with the school’s department of Student Diversity and Multicultural Affairs (SDMA) Feb. 20 to discuss the issues. She said SRJ and SDMA decided to try an educational campaign using flyers, which will inform the community about how people need access to the products.
SDMA couldn’t be reached for comment by the time of publication.
Al-Salaita said SRJ and SDMA also plan to try to survey the community of TGNC students at Loyola about their ability to access the products around campus.
Rodriguez confirmed the meeting with SDMA took place in his statement to The Phoenix and said the campaign “will generate awareness of interventions and strategies designed to be inclusive of transgender and gender non-conforming (TGNC) Loyola students.”
He also said parts of the campaign will inform community members of the barriers low-income students and TGNC students at Loyola may face when trying to access hygiene products.
“My call to every student is to share the campaign information once it is made available and to join us in a renewed commitment to caring for self, caring for others, and caring for our community,” Rodriguez said.