When Caroline Stern was asked to write a policy proposal for a Government class, she could not have foreseen that the University would rally around her idea and launch a pilot program that soon will bring free menstrual products to public restrooms on campus.

Professor Kenneth Cosgrove was impressed when Stern presented her “Tamp Act” idea in his Introduction to American Democracy class.

Stern, a public relations major, “sold it really well,” said Cosgrove. “It made sense.”

He ran the idea by colleagues and his wife and received a positive response.

“As a member of the Faculty Senate, it's part of my job to advocate for good working conditions,” said Cosgrove. “I got important feedback from Suffolk faculty and staff about their interest in having such a policy at Suffolk.”

Then, in a reflection of real-world politics, Cosgrove introduced Stern to someone who could make her concept reality: Provost Marisa Kelly.

It takes a campus …

“Caroline thought it would make a grassroots campaign,” said Cosgrove. But he encouraged Stern to take it to the next level.

“Dr. Cosgrove emailed the next day and told me I had a meeting with the provost in two days,” said Stern. “I spent the next two days researching and then presented the ‘Tamp Act’ in a binder. She liked the idea.”

“Caroline feels very passionately about this as an issue of equity,” said Kelly, who makes herself available to students and is particularly excited when a student brings forward a proposal for positive change. “Caroline was so enthusiastic and thoughtful about it as a social justice issue. Because of her commitment and because the recommendation was in the spirit of our mission I said I would explore” costs and other issues.

Following further administrative discussions, the University has ordered machines that will dispense menstrual products free of charge. They will be installed throughout campus, except in residence halls, which Stern and administrators agree are the equivalent of students’ homes.

Students’ responsibility

Stern and others involved in the pilot program urge students to be responsible and take only what they need so that offering free menstrual products can be a sustainable program for the University.

Statistics show that women find makeshift fixes when their periods arrive unexpectedly and they are away from home, according to Stern. Moreover, menstrual products are taxed in many states and countries, although not in Massachusetts. And some women and girls cannot afford tampons and pads.

“Girls, especially in developing countries, sometimes miss a week of school when menstruating,” she said. Her proposal noted that the Tamp Act will provide women at Suffolk the benefit of not having to skip classes because of their inability to find menstrual products fast enough.

“My solution is to put free tampon machines–first at Suffolk and then at all schools in Massachusetts, then across the country,” said Stern, who became interested in gender studies, human rights, and women’s right through personal experience and course work.

Stern set out her rationale in the PowerPoint presentation:

  • All public bathrooms provide FREE toilet paper, soap, even seat covers, and towels to dry hands, but not any kind of menstruation product.
  • Toilet paper, like the hand soap and paper towels we also find in public restrooms, is a sanitary product, because at some point in our history a decision was made to make those products available to everyone for free in public restrooms because it's good for the public.
  • Putting complimentary menstrual products in Suffolk University bathrooms is incredibly beneficial to both the students and staff.
  • Taking this step says, “We care about our employees and students, and this student-initiated program shows that we are a University that listens and wants to move forward in closing the gender inequality gap.”

“We will be the first school in Massachusetts and one of the first in the country to offer these free necessities,” said Stern. “It shows that Suffolk cares about women students, faculty and staff.”

“I’m really excited and proud and hopeful that people will be courteous and respectful.”