By Aleksandra Sidorova
A spring study by a student-faculty duo revealed a greater need for resources for menstruating students on the SUNY Plattsburgh campus. Their petition for a Menstrual Wellness Center gathered more than 360 signatures.
Assistant Professor of Gender and Women’s Studies Akanksha Misra and student Olivia Wolfe first shared the results of their study of polycystic ovary syndrome, which included almost 600 responses, on the Black Solidarity Day social justice teach-in Nov. 6. That’s also when they first shared their petition that measured the campus community’s interest in a Menstrual Wellness Center.
“Olivia was in my Feminist Theory class, and we were talking very intensely about medicalization of women’s bodies,” Misra said. “Menstruation was everywhere, but nobody was talking about it. I knew that if there was one student who could do this, it was Olivia.”
The study itself looked for connections between PCOS and childhood experiences. Still, the data revealed that not only do many participants — in part, SUNY Plattsburgh students — have irregular periods, but in general have little understanding of the menstrual cycle and menstrual disorders such as PCOS, endometriosis, and related conditions.
A person’s menstrual cycle impacts many areas of their life, Misra and Wolfe said. Throughout the monthly cycle, hormonal changes impact a person’s mood and mental health, and menstruation, for many, is accompanied by pain or other physical discomfort.
As studies have shown, these factors, in turn, can affect their daily life, including academic success. As such, a potential Menstrual Wellness Center could utilize funding to support students’ mental health, like the Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund grant of $400,000 SUNY Plattsburgh received in October of 2022.
Additionally, Misra said the North Country is considered a “healthcare desert” and is an area that experiences “period poverty,” meaning a lack of access to safe menstrual hygiene products. Establishing a Menstrual Wellness Center on campus is a way to give back to the community.
“There’s Planned Parenthood, but there’s over 4,000 students on campus,” Misra said. “Plus, we’re a public university, so we also have a service towards our larger community. All of these factors, combined with what was coming from the survey, made us think about this center.”
While Misra and Wolfe have ambitious long-term goals for the Menstrual Wellness Center, their immediate goals include having a physical space that makes menstrual hygiene products accessible to students and serves as a space to learn about regular and disordered menstruation and share experiences or concerns.
“We talk a lot about safe spaces on campuses and our world in general, and I think it would be good to have a safe space,” Wolfe said. “Menstruation is such a big — for people who do menstruate — part of mental health. It affects your mental health every day of the month in different ways, and for some people, it’s more dramatic than others, and I think a space to bold, instead of ignore, that pain is good and needed.”
The space would also welcome people across the gender spectrum.
“For queer students and trans students who menstruate, it is especially difficult, because we’re silent even around cis women’s bodies,” Misra said.
Misra and Wolfe encourage students, professors, and staff to share the link to the petition with anyone, whether on- or off-campus, to show college administration that there is interest and demand for a Menstrual Wellness Center. They also encouraged those who sign to leave comments and feedback.
“Having this space available to students would be both helpful and empowering as we prepare young adults to take an equal place in the world,” Professor of History Wendy Gordon wrote on the petition page.