A 36-count box of Tampax tampons costs about $6.99, plus tax. This is money that some people, particularly college students, do not always have. But on Monday, from 10:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m., anyone who came through the Multicultural Center Lounge could help themselves to free menstrual products and clothing.
Leftover products and clothes were given to other local nonprofits.
Sponsored by the Born This Way Foundation and Peace First, philanthropic studies major Taylor M. Parker created the Clothes Swap and Menstrual Product Drive to increase student access to these items.
“So I’ve always had a peculiar passion for access to menstrual hygiene products, or menstrual hygiene health rather,” Parker said. “Or even just menstrual hygiene.”
Parker’s interest began in her junior year of high school, when a friend asked her for help when she couldn’t afford tampons for herself, her mother and three sisters. Parker supplied her until the family was back on their feet.
Soon after, she heard a statistic that one in eight menstruating Hoosiers lacked proper access to menstrual products, which horrified her. Improper menstrual hygiene can lead to serious and potentially fatal illness, like toxic shock syndrome.
So Parker started her own nonprofit, “Project Clean Living,” now the “Red Dot Drives” community projects, to increase menstrual product access in places like schools and homeless shelters.
“It’s a huge problem and no one wants to talk about it because they think it’s gross or it’s too feminine,” she said. “Menstruation is not a feminine issue, and even if it was, what’s wrong with that? It’s not gross, it’s natural, and people need to step up and understand it’s an issue.”
Parker is the vice president for the LGBTQ+ Student Alliance, and knows that not every menstruating individual identifies as a woman, or even as a feminine person. Menstruation can trigger intense gender dysphoria and shame, so she included the clothing swap and opaque tote bags. Students could cover their products with the clothes and carry bags around campus without fear of having their gender expression misinterpreted.
“I think it’s very creative, and it’s respectful, because not everyone wants to just walk out here with a box of tampons,” Payton Hendershot, a junior and double major, said. “And we got really cute bags. I got the one with the dogs.”
If the Born This Way Foundation sounds familiar, it’s Lady Gaga’s anti-bullying nonprofit.
It collaborated with Peace First, a nonprofit to empower young adult social justice projects, to create the Channel Kindness award. Parker applied to over the summer out of curiosity. She never anticipated winning, but then she got the call to get started.
Peace First sent her $250 and the help of Fish Stark, a Fellow-in-Residence, to make her project happen. She built a team of her peers, all queer women. Stark and Parker communicated for weeks, as Peace First is based in Boston.
Parker had never worked with something as large as the Born This Way Foundation and was initially intimidated. Stark was awed by Parker’s organizational skills and drive to create sustainable change. Most young people Stark works with have a great idea, but need guidance.
“The process for this project, honestly, has been a dream, because Taylor is a force of nature,” he said. “She’s someone with such a clearheaded sense of justice.”
From 4 to 8 p.m. on Sunday night, Parker, her team and Stark collected donated menstrual products outside the Lady Gaga concert at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. They gathered upwards of 6,000 products, and then Parker sat in the front row.
“It’s unparalleled. Her performance was--it was just absolutely remarkable,” she said. “I have such a huge place in my heart for celebrities that are using their platform for the social good.”
But Parker’s love of concerts is outpaced by her burning desire to change IUPUI, and the world, for the better.
“Students deserve to be comfortable on campus where they’re here for sometimes 12 hours a day,” Parker said. “But I know that at the very least, this is going to begin a policy change at IUPUI to make these products accessible for students on campus.”