The period project

Ohio University is blazing a trail to a better future by committing to provide free period products in every restroom on campus.

Sarah Logue | January 9, 2024


This is a story about a student who knows how to rally people around a cause, about the people she set out to help and the ones who had her back along the way. It’s a story about University and student leaders working together to establish a program that will provide free period products in every restroom on campus. In other words, it’s a quintessential OHIO story, and it starts with a quintessential Bobcat.

Senior Megan Handle is the current president of University Student Senate, but when our story began last fall, she was its Women’s Affairs Commissioner. And she was closely tracking a lack of supplies in the restrooms in Baker University Center.


Megan describes the origins of her idea

'Doing our job for students'

Student Senate had committed to providing free period products in the bathrooms in Baker University Center and parts of Alden Library, but every time Handle sought out such a product, the dispensers were empty. She took this seriously.

Lack of access to period products might seem like a minor inconvenience, but as issues like period poverty (lack of access to sanitary products, menstrual hygiene education, toilets, handwashing facilities, or waste management) and menstrual equity (equal and comprehensive access to menstrual hygiene products, and to the right to education about reproductive health) gain traction, organizations and governments are beginning to take it seriously, too. Scotland made headlines in 2021 when it became the first country to pass national legislation that makes period products free. But when Handle first set out to tackle the issue, she didn’t know all of this. She just knew Student Senate had committed to providing the products, and that they were consistently falling short on that promise.

“I was like, this is something we are saying we're doing and it's not there,” Handle says. “We're not really doing our job for students. So what's going on?”


Tackling the problem

A senior studying social work in the Honors Tutorial College, Handle was a highly involved multi-sport athlete in high school. She’d vowed to take it a little easier in college, but she found herself tackling the issue of the empty dispensers in a characteristically energetic fashion.

“I started taking pictures every time I went into a bathroom and the dispenser was empty,” she says. “I was texting all my friends: ‘if you ever see an empty dispenser, send me a picture.’ I still have a collection of just empty dispensers on my phone.”

Handle contacted Aunt Flow, the vendor who provided the dispensers and products, for help working up an estimate for increasing supplies and ensuring the dispensers were stocked. She also started doing some of her own research into period poverty, a concept Handle found to be under-researched at the time and has since undertaken as part of her senior thesis.

Research has shown that lacking access to period products can have wide-ranging negative impacts on students, from decreased attendance to poor academic performance. Handle’s own research showed that nationally, 48% of students struggle to afford basic needs, which of course include menstrual products. Many states (including Ohio) require that public 6-12 grade schools provide the products, usually upon request. 

[Students] shouldn't have to pay for period products if we say we're supplying them here.

Megan Handle

“Period poverty affects college students more, even more so if they're from a marginalized background,” Handle says. “[As part of their tuition and fees], students are paying for college and paying to live here, for food, for other things that are considered basic needs. They shouldn't have to pay for period products if we say we're supplying them here.”

Through a campaign of what she describes as “annoying” persistence, Handle had succeeded in getting Facilities to restock the Baker dispensers more often. But by now she had started asking even more questions: Why were the dispensers only in Baker? Why was Student Senate the only source for this funding?

“[Student Senate] should not be spending all of our budget on something that should just be available” she recalls thinking. “The school is supposed to support all students. Let's work on that.”

Handle started preparing to take a big idea to University administration.

Two presidents

The president of Student Senate meets regularly with the University president. With then-Senate president Dayna Shoulders’ permission, Handle crashed the February meeting—and crushed it. Armed with a PowerPoint deck drawing on her research, Handle put her case to the president. 
“It's cheaper to fund every student needing period products than every student needing toilet paper. Comparatively it's not that big…I'm not a math girl, but: take the hit to support your students.”

Despite not being “a math girl,” Handle provided a budget proposal: spend $236,820 once on dispensers for every bathroom on campus, with an annual investment of $42,000 to restock products. It was an effective argument, or at least President Sherman seemed to think so.

“I was over the moon,” Handle remembers.

'All the people. Everyone'

The evening after her meeting with President Sherman, Handle presented a five-page legislative document at the Student Senate hearing.

Student Senate rules require that every piece of legislation introduced has a primary sponsor and one secondary sponsor. Two—that’s the number of sponsors associated with any given bill. Handle brought 43 sponsors into the senate meeting that evening.

“I was like, I'm just going to get all of my friends, all of the people I know who are frustrated about having periods. All the people, everyone,” she says. “All the people who don't have periods, if they're biologically men, or people I've complained to about being on my period. Let's get them, too.”

The measure passed, and since she already had verbal approval from President Sherman, things moved quickly from here.

Megan tells the story about presenting to Senate along with 43 supporters

The bathroom tour

Handle participated in every step of the process, which included sitting on the committee that ultimately selected the vendor who would provide the products. They chose Aunt Flow for its inclusive mission and organic products and arranged to have a second vendor help with logistics.

Over the summer, Handle and her mentor, Women’s Center assistant director Dr. Letitia Price, worked together to determine where to begin installation, but first they needed to be sure that the dispensers would fit in all the restrooms.

Which is how an unlikely trio—the Student Senate president, the assistant director of the Women’s Center, and the director of Facilities Management—came to be walking around campus on a sunny day in September, taking turns carrying a big metal period product dispenser.

They even ran into the University’s new president, Lori Stewart Gonzalez, on College Green.

Handle laughs, recalling the experience.

“First of all, I was like, I love that she can recognize me in the wild! That makes me feel so special. And I'm standing next to Letitia who's holding this dispenser. I was like, ‘We're doing a bathroom tour. We're not weird.’ I mean, maybe, but it was funny.”

Big important things

Here's what Megan is personally taking away from this experience.

The “bathroom tour” was productive, and Mack’s team installed dispensers in 15 buildings over winter break. They will continue the rollout in the coming months. Student Senate and the Women’s Center are planning “period party” to celebrate their success.

“This whole time I've been like, I want to cut a ribbon,” Handle says. “Over a year of my life on this project, I call it my baby. It was my passion project. My whole heart and soul has gone into this. I want to put a little red ribbon in front of the bathrooms... Give me a giant pair of pink scissors or something.”

Handle said that when this project began, she expected a much longer timeline—she thought dispensers might be installed a year or two after her own graduation in May 2024. The success of the project taught her some valuable lessons.

“You can do big important things that will make change in your community. I think it’s crazy to look back and see all that I was able to accomplish with my people.”