Group of girls
(L-R) Jaaie Varshney, Mahathi Mula, Suvitha Viswanathan, Ashley Boyle, Maeve Breathnach Todd Kerzie — UGA FMD

The University of Georgia (UGA) Facilities Management Division (FMD), in Athens, has not sponsored a menstrual product program in the resident instruction facilities since the mid-to-late 1990s. Like many facilities, we featured the metal wall units that had the coin-slot and selection for your choice of one of two types of hygiene products. 

These period product dispensers were common-place since the early 1980s. However, the maintenance and upkeep proved to be expensive and, many times, the machines themselves were not stocked as often as they should have been.

As facility managers, we also came to realize that these machines were frequently out of order or vandalized. They were not being utilized as frequently as was initially considered in many locations. They weren’t being properly cleaned or disinfected. And many users simply chose not to pay for the products provided.

However, we’ve seen a rapidly growing demand from our campus students and other stakeholders for facility leaders to consider the initiative to provide period products once again. In fact, the initiative pitched to our FMD team was initiated by a group of students.

Not only did these students want period products available, they wanted them to be sustainable (biodegradable, reduced content or no rayon, dye or synthetic materials, and/or packaging), free to students, and limited to single-user restroom facilities. The provision for single-user restrooms seeks to provide a safe space for anyone that may want additional privacy.

Before getting started, our student team conducted a campus-wide climate assessment between July and August 2020. This determined that approximately 57.4 percent of the University of Georgia’s student population currently identifies as female. Of the 2,000 respondents who participated in the assessment, 54.63 percent reported that the lack of accessibility to period products impacted their academic life. It was determined that acquiring period products was a financial burden for 38.04 percent of participants. Additional feedback from the assessment detailed that hundreds of the respondents also felt socially impacted from the lack of free period products on campus.

Piloting Project Red

In making the decision to work with this group of students on what has become “Project Red,” it was important for the FMD team to have a strategic model based on business and facility management principles. Therefore, the FMD team had discussions on how to support the initiative and how to mentor Project Red leaders in this process.

Early on, the students received a product award from an industry-known personal product vendor as part of a national college awareness initiative. But that came with a catch. The vendor wanted UGA to sign a non-compete contract to provide the products identified in the award package.

This was a hurdle because our university must maintain competitive purchasing practices and utilize approved supplies and materials contracts. After discussion with the vendor and our students, the FMD team decided the best course of action for UGA was to sponsor our students with a campus sustainability grant ($5,000) in which we could allow them to run their own pilot program.

To get started, the students have been assigned specific tasks such as customer assessment, communications, financial tracking, and building support-monitoring usage of product dispensers. They provide bi-monthly progress reports to a group of program advisors. That collaborative team is made up of FMD staff from our Warehouse, Building Services Department, a faculty member and myself.

The pilot program started on Jan. 12, 2021, as our campus began the spring semester. With limited campus usage, the students identified two agreed-upon locations on campus to pilot the program. The students conducted a campus-wide user preference survey and narrowed down these pilot program locations based on high student population and the ability to stock one single-user restroom in each of the two areas.

The students had to solicit the support of the building administrator to identify the building restroom and make a successful marketing pitch to obtain permission to use their location. They also then worked with our building custodial staff and warehouse staff to initiate the stock and dispenser installations. Our FMD collaboration team procured all materials needed for the pilot program, worked with our talented operations and maintenance staff to fabricate the metal stands for the product holders, and securely house all surplus products until they are needed for dispenser restock.

To date, this program is receiving very positive customer feedback and usage. It’s so successful that the Project Red students have now identified a third campus location, and we are working on the installation of the dispenser and products.

We are using this program as an example of how to inspire students about the world of facility operations, as well as providing them a chance to see if the pilot project meets the needs of campus users and can be sustained in a longer-term fashion. My FMD team has already been approached by other state schools regarding this pilot program, and are interested in having some student-led Zoom meetings.

As we relish in the early success of this Project Red program, we should remember that mentoring our student’s sustainable, daily practices is just one way in which we can foster change. At UGA FMD, we tell our facility staff (custodians, groundskeepers, trades staff, engineers and administrative staff) that we help get UGA students to graduation. As facilities professionals, programs such as Project Red bring us closer to that reality and help our staff see this in real-time.

Kimberly Thomas is the Director of Facilities Management at the University of Georgia – Facilities Management Division. Her department has received recognition for its commitment to green cleaning and sustainability from the Healthy Schools Network, Environmental Protection Agency – Georgia state office, and U.S. Green Building Council – Georgia division. Kimberly serves on the Healthy Green Schools & Colleges Steering Committee and is a member of USGBC-Georgia.