Why Brown University providing free tampons in both women’s and men’s restrooms is so important

With back-to-school season in full swing, Brown University is welcoming its student body back with a crucial nod to female and LGBTQ students. Brown will provide women and men free tampons and pads in campus and residential bathrooms, as a result of an initiative led by the Ivy League school’s student body president, Viet Nguyen, Newsweek reports. Nguyen informed the student body of this change in an email on Tuesday, letting students know that women’s, men’s, and gender-inclusive bathrooms would now provide free menstrual hygiene products. In doing so, Brown is importantly acknowledging that cisgender women aren’t the only ones who menstruate.

Free pads and tampons are important for a lot of reasons, one huge one being that menstruation and access to menstrual products can significantly affect female students’ attendance and ability to be productive, according to numerous studies. It’s also a nod to female students of lower socioeconomic status, because menstrual products aren’t cheap and forcing women to pay up because of their biology is literal bullshit. “Low-income students struggle with having the necessary funding for food, let alone tampons,” Nguyen told Newsweek.

While, obviously, all of this is important, arguably the most critical aspect of Brown’s decision is its acknowledgement of and respect for transgender men and gender-nonconforming individuals, and their rights. “We wanted to set a tone of trans-inclusivity, and not forget that they’re an important part of the population,” the student body president said.

Brown’s latest decision comes at a time of increasing hostility toward the transgender community and their bathroom rights. Transgender and gender-noncomforming individuals are often sweepingly portrayed by conservatives as men who disguise themselves as women to harass and assault cisgender girls, despite the simple, objective fact that there exist no recorded incidents of transgender individuals harassing people in restrooms.

Meanwhile, frequently ignored are the many recorded incidents in which trans men and women and gender-nonconforming individuals faced harassment and assault trying to use public restrooms themselves. By including free tampons and pads in all bathrooms, Brown is not only moving past dated, cis-normative standards, but ultimately sending the important message that trans men are men, and even if they menstruate, that doesn’t make them any less welcome in the restroom that corresponds with their gender identity.

Despite the huge dialogue around transgender bathroom rights over the past year, Nguyen acknowledged to Newsweek that widespread ignorance remains, but according to Brown’s student body president, at least at his college, patient explaining is generally followed by understanding.

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“I’ve had questions about why we’re implementing this in male bathrooms as well,” he told Newsweek. “It’s an initial confusion, but people generally understand when we explain it.”

Brown’s menstrual product initiative follows a recent decision in New York to include free menstrual products in the bathrooms of all public schools with students grades 6-12, as well as shelters and jails. And at Stanford, respect for transgender students will also be a priority this year through the use of a new system that allows students to log their pronouns for faculty and professors to respect.

Tolerance for all kinds of people, and providing a welcoming, hospitable environment is crucial to students’ ability to make the most of their education. In offering free menstrual products to all its students who menstruate, regardless of their gender identities, Brown offered its transgender students assurance that they’re welcome on campus, and will hopefully inspire other colleges around the nation to follow suit.