Choate to Provide Free Tampons

Upon returning to campus next years, girls may notice a subtle change in the school: there will be dispensers containing free tampons and pads present in the girls’ bathrooms in some buildings. The school plans to install these dispensers in academic buildings, the library, the Winter X, and Archbold over the summer, and install them in dormitory bathrooms after.

Michelle Bolt ’16, a student who initiated the idea, noted its significance: “It means we’re making progress for the school. A lot of the time people say ‘You can talk about something, but what are you actually doing?’ This is concrete proof of something that we’ve done to advance gender equality at this school, so I definitely think it’s a step in the right direction.”

Zemia Edmondson ’16 and Esul Burton ’16, two other students involved with the initiative, agreed. They stated that the school is not only recognizing the needs of its students, but it is also responding to current debate in the greater world. Recently, a handful of states has ended the luxury tax on tampons.

The proposal to offer free tampons and pads was entirely student-driven. Bolt, Edmondson, Burton, and Michelle Lopez ’16, drafted a proposal during winter term to offer directly to the administration. In February, Edmondson proposed the idea of free sanitary products in bathrooms to Mrs. Kathleen Wallace, the Associate Headmaster.

After hearing the students’ proposal, Mrs. Wallace brought the idea to the Senior Officers, which includes herself, Dr. Alex Curtis, the Headmaster; Ms. Katie Levesque, the Dean of Faculty; Mr. James Stanley, the Dean of Students; Mr. Daniel Courcey, the Executive Director of Development and Alumni Relations; Ms. Allison Cady, Director of Strategic Planning and Communications; and Mr. Richard Saltz, the Chief Financial Officer.

Ms. Wallace noted that after she introduced the idea, “We all looked at each other and said, ‘This is a no-brainer. Why don’t we do this?’”

Ms. Wallace said, “It is a recognition that females are different biologically from males. It’s just another way of supporting our girls on campus. I’m just glad that there was a group of students that felt like they could come forward and ask about this and make a request. I think that shows a certain amount of self-awareness among those students and confidence in those students that the school will listen to them and act appropriately in response to a request, which I think we did.”

Before proposing the idea, Bolt, Edmondson, Burton, and Lopez met multiple times to discuss the reasons for the school to implement this change. Edmondson commented, “We realized that other schools have tampon dispensers for free, such as Deerfield and Andover, but we don’t. I think it’s kind of ridiculous that we give out free condoms in the Health Center, and that we have toilet paper that’s accessible in all bathrooms, but we don’t have another medical necessity, a health necessity, and a sanitation necessity, such as tampons or pads.” She added, “At the school store, they’re pretty expensive, and at Walmart, they’re pretty expensive. If we want the community to be on equal playing grounds for both sexes, then we need to have them.”

Burton drew an analogy with a tampon dispenser to Purell dispensers. “I think it’s also the fact that almost every building—dorm building and academic building alike—has Purell hand dispensers. You could make the argument that those are a health item, but they’re not a necessity. Yet, obviously, the school feels like that’s important to have for students to access on a daily basis,” she said. “I would say that since women menstruate monthly, and then I think we should extend that courtesy, and we should provide tampons and other sanitary materials for free.”

In contrast to other initiatives currently in front of the school administration, such as one overhauling Choate’s dress code, the process to accept the initiative to offer free tampons and pads was swift. The students were grateful for the quick process, and they attributed the success of their initiative to their decision to go directly to the administration, instead of distributing a petition or working with Student Council. As Bolt commented, “I think that if we went through Student Council, it would have taken a little bit longer, though I think that they would have agreed to it as well.”

Bolt believes that the change was long overdue: “I came from an all-girls school in New York City and we had free pads and tampons absolutely everywhere. You wouldn’t walk into a bathroom and expect to be charged for toilet paper, but you’re still charged for something you have absolutely no control over. I think it’s just one consequence of the stigma around periods and our inability to talk about them.”

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