Despite the generally positive reception of the Free Flow project—which installed dispensers for free pads and tampons in 12 women’s and four men’s bathrooms across campus—the initiative has also elicited negative responses. Housekeeping confirmed that all the tampons and pads in the men’s restroom of the first floor of David Saul Smith Union were thrown away unused several times. Additionally, someone defecated in the receptacle intended for used products.
Karen Doyle, a housekeeper in Smith Union who found and cleaned up the feces Wednesday morning, said that she has seen unused pads and tampons in the trashcan over 10 times since they were first placed there over Spring Break.
“I’m only putting five [pads and tampons] in there for that reason,” she said. “If we put more then it’s just going to be 20 of them going in the trash.”
The pads and tampons were placed in men’s restrooms to address the needs of people who menstruate and use the men’s bathroom, such as trans men and some gender nonconforming people.
At its meeting Wednesday night, Bowdoin Student Government (BSG) discussed how it should respond to the incident, including whether these cases should be classified as bias incidents.
“I feel like it was either a person who did it as a joke or didn’t understand it, or it was a deliberate thing like, ‘these people aren’t welcome in this bathroom so I’m going to poop there,’ which would be considered a bias incident,” said Vice President for Student Affairs Benjamin Painter ’19. “And if so, I think the administration should respond to it just like they would respond to any other bias incident.”
BSG members decided to address the issue by educating the community, rather than labeling the acts as bias incidents. BSG plans to update signage in the men’s bathrooms to make the purpose of the products clearer.
“We talked about sending an email to the school, but we felt like it would bring attention to someone whose actions didn’t really deserve that much attention,” said BSG President Harriet Fisher ’17. “I don’t think we’re actually polarized about it as a campus.”
“I worry that framing it or admonishing any sort of behavior would make this a divisive issue, and we don’t want tampons in the bathroom to be divisive,” said Kate Berkeley ’18.
The College is also not treating what happened as a bias incident. Bias incidents are typically reported through an online portal and addressed in a committee of faculty and students. They typically merit an official response from the school. The last bias incident reported was in January when someone drew a swastika in the snow outside of West and Osher Halls. The College posts an online record of past incidents.
Director of Safety and Security Randy Nichols acknowledged the incident in an email to the Orient and said that an investigation is underway, but he declined to comment further because Security does not yet have enough information.
Several male students said they had initially been surprised to see the dispensers.
“I think people would be lying if they said that seeing them in the men’s bathrooms didn’t make them initially curious,” said Nate Blum ’20. “But then I realized that it makes a good amount of sense just considering the fact that you don’t know who biologically is entering those bathrooms, versus who they identify as, so theoretically it could be useful to the people that also want to use those bathrooms.”
There is signage above the tampon bin that states the products are for “all people who menstruate” but does not state specifically that they are for transgender men, those who identify as men or use the men’s restroom but also menstruate.
“The thought came to mind,” said Steven Colin ’17. “I just haven’t met any trans men on campus. I have friends at home that are going through the transition. I just haven’t met anyone on campus. But I just didn’t quite make the connection right away.”
Free Flow project was launched by a group of female students, who initially received funding from BSG’s Good Ideas Fund earlier this year. After the pilot program of placing baskets with free menstrual products received positive feedback, the College agreed to fund permanent dispensers in restrooms across campus.
Emily Cohen contributed to this report.
Editor’s Note, March 31, 5 p.m: This article has been updated to clarify that the pads and tampons in men’s restrooms are intended for trans* people who use the men’s restroom and also menstruate.