Students Emma Baum, April Westover, and Jazmin Rush work together to create posters for the Tampon Drive.
In fall 2017, twelve students in a U.S. Government class at Columbus State University decided to take matters into their own hands.
In the United States, thousands of homeless women fall severely ill, or even die, due to a lack of feminine hygiene products. When people can’t afford even the bare essentials, such as shelter and food, other issues like personal hygiene become too expensive and are often overlooked when providing for the homeless.
The students' class assignments inspired this project. Two of the students were writing papers on the lack of access to feminine hygiene products, and their classmates were really interested in the topic.
“I felt that students would get a lot out of engaging in a project that they were passionate about,” Nathan Combes, Ph.D said. “I intentionally was as ‘hands off’ as I could be with this project. I wanted students to have the opportunity to take on leadership roles and problem-solve on their own, with only limited input from myself.”
The students determined that there were two main issues to tackle: the first being the lack of access to feminine hygiene products for homeless women, and the second being the luxury tax on feminine hygiene products that makes them more expensive. The class took a vote on which issue they would address, by either holding a tampon drive or contacting local government about the tax. They decided on the tampon drive because it seemed more doable given the limited amount of time and power they had; also, the drive appeared to be more of a team-oriented task. They enlisted the help of the Quality Enhancement Program (QEP) advisory board to determine the technical aspects and then got started.
Their goal was to hold a tampon drive within CSU to collect products and donate them to the Homeless Resource Network. The drive would provide these products to women and girls who are in desperate need of them.
“We wanted to be clear with our cause, but also not freak people out too much considering it is a somewhat sensitive topic to people who are not as open-minded as others,” said Jack Summers, a dual enrollment student. “So we kept the name simple, calling it a tampon drive, but didn’t try to use any gross scare tactics like putting images of blood on the posters.”
The local drive did not reach much farther than the Columbus area, but the student’s efforts still helped those in need and made an example for others to spread awareness and take action. Being on a fairly community-oriented campus, they received a lot of donations from concerned students.
QEP counted 638 items donated, which consisted of 298 pads/liners and 340 tampons. Mariko Izumi Ph.D, QEP Director, and Combes gathered all donations and brought them to the Homeless Resource Network in Columbus.
“Overall, I think that the students who did most of the leading learned a lot from the experience, so I am happy with my decision,” said Dr. Combes. “I believe that a number of students will continue to be involved in community service and civic engagement going forward; and making that kind of long-term impact is one of the most rewarding experiences a professor can have. This experience bolstered my conviction that students should have a voice in designing each course.”
Unfortunately, social stigmas have led menstruation to be taboo in casual conversation. By holding this very public drive, the students hoped to make a bold statement that women have periods, and women who do not have means to buy products for their periods are desperately in need. The tampon shortage remains not just a local issue of sanitation, but a country-wide issue of lack of awareness on a deeper level.
While the students in this small government class cannot change millions of mindsets and centuries of social stigma, they decided that they can do their part to change the lives of the women in Columbus, even if only by providing them what they need.
“I am very proud that we managed to earn so many tampons and pads in such a short amount of time, all because of an impulsive, ballsy decision made by a small group of young adults to make some sort of change happen,” Summers added.
The students heard nothing but positive feedback from people who saw the posters and donation boxes. They expressed support and agreed that it is an issue that needs to be discussed more openly.
“I believe the tampon drive was an extremely compassionate and effective effort to combat some of the often unnoticed issues that accompany poverty. By hosting this drive, the students behind the cause showed how considerate we have the potential to be,” first year student Madison Coleman expressed. “No matter how little we may give, there is always the potential to give, which is a lesson this drive has taught me."
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