Mason student organizations, faculty and staff teamed up to ease access to sexual health and period products.
BY JIMMY HENDERSON, STAFF WRITER
According to their website, Student Health Services provides free contraceptives, menstrual products and sexually transmitted infection (STI) screenings. Additionally, emergency contraceptives are available for a purchase of $35 through an appointment.
Recently, SHS has installed new vending machines stocked with reproductive health products for Mason students.
There are currently two machines on the Fairfax Campus. The first one is in the Johnson Center, near the blue lockers at the ground level exit. The second machine is in the Student Union Building 1 (SUB 1) next to the SHS, room 2300.
Mason’s Arlington Campus has one dispenser in their SHS office. The Office of Disability Services contributed braille to the dispensers, and students can scan a QR code on the dispensers to request larger orders of contraceptives.
SHS Health and Well-Being Coordinator Stephanie Funkhouser described what is included in the dispenser.
“The sexual health dispensers have a wide variety of products. We stock external condoms that are latex-free, regular and Magnum. In order to be as inclusive as possible we also included dental dams in the dispensers as well as lubricant packets,” said Funkhouser.
“Additionally, outside of contraceptives, we offer period products, so menstrual pads and tampons are also available in the dispensers.”
The rollout was inspired by another university. Health Equity Lead Nurse at Student Health Services Megan Symanowitz heard about the program from Josh Kinchen, Director of LGBTQ+ Resources Center. Kinchen worked at Florida State University and described a program there where the university had installed and stocked similar dispensers on their campus.
Symanowitz said that SHS wanted to improve accessibility to sexual health products after offering them in their office. “
We’ve had these resources available at Student Health Services for eons,” said Symanowitz.
“Students didn’t necessarily know that they could come ask us for them.”
Symanowitz claimed spreading awareness of the dispensers will promote sexual health.
The new machines encourage the availability of products and education on STDs and STIs according to Funkhouser.
“Having these [vending machines] on campus is a way to promote the sexual health of the student body,” said Funkhouser.
“But also decreases that stigma around sex and lets students know that you can engage in these practices and be safe about it.”
“Getting the word out that these are provided by Student Health Services is going to improve the conversation and make students more likely to come talk to us about their sexual health needs,” said Symanowitz. “
Because we’re the first ones to know if there’s a problem, and it would be a lot better if we could open that door sooner before there’s any issue.”
Symanowitz says that many groups contributed to getting the dispensers approved.
“I just want to emphasize the fact that this was a group effort that involved several different RSOs, Student Government and several different departments in the community. It wouldn’t have happened without a lot of collaboration.”
Dr. Stephen Wintermyer was Interim Executive Director of SHS at Mason at the time of launch and approved the program. Stephen Morehouse, Executive Director of Mason Student Centers, Event Services and EagleBank Arena, also helped with the approval of dispenser locations in campus buildings. Dr. Rachel Wernicke, Associate Dean and Chief Mental Health Officer, oversees SHS, and Melissa Thierry, Director of Regional Campuses for University Life, oversees dispensers in Arlington campus.
Mason Student Body President Sophia Nguyen and Senators Liam Keen and Jackson McAfee of Student Government provided SHS with feedback for the concept and later advertised the rollout.
Molly Sullivan, president of Generation Action, a registered student organization (RSO) chapter of Planned Parenthood, said they wanted to make more students aware that did not know where to find reproductive health products and services on campus.
“Our attempt to remedy that problem was to hold a meeting during which our members created posters that displayed where to find condoms, emergency contraception, and STI testing on campus,” said Sullivan.
“Our board member then went and hung up those posters on varying locations in the Johnson Center, Horizon Hall and the HUB.”
Nguyen leads the RSO Patriot Period Project, alongside Vice President Shafuq Naseem. The RSO agreed to help supply period products to the dispenser.
“I have to put in a plug for the Patriot Period Project also because they’re the ones who supply us with the menstrual products. When we decided that we wanted to put menstrual products in the dispensers, I reached out to them and they got back to me right away.” said Symanowitz.
SHS hopes to install a contraceptive dispenser at Fenwick Library in the future.