“Code Red” is often heard in moments of immediate danger and panic. However, as of Jan. 29, the phrase designates an initiative to stock every bathroom in Perkins Library with free menstrual hygiene products.

Led by junior Sabriyya Pate, attorney general of Duke Student Government, the pilot program will continue to stock all women’s, men's and gender-neutral restrooms in the library “until supplies run out," in an effort to demonstrate to the University that there is widespread interest in menstrual hygiene dispensers. The project is a collaboration between Duke Student Government and Progress. Period., a student organization dedicated to increasing access to menstrual hygiene products and destigmatizing menstruation and menstrual health. 

“I thought this pilot program would be a great way to show that there is student need,” Pate said.

Sue Wasiolek, associate vice president for student affairs and dean of students, helped connect the Code Red organizers with faculty and members of the administration who could help them realize their goals for the program. 

“They brought with them significant information about these initiatives at other schools where menstrual products were being supplied in public restrooms, so we talked it through, and I suggested they create a budget," she said. "When they brought the budget back, they were put in touch with [Larry] Moneta, [vice president for student affairs], and John Noonan, who oversees facilities management and housekeeping.” 

Wasiolek noted that Noonan and other faculty were aware that these programs existed at other schools and were supportive of the program.

Code Red had to consider whether to place the dispensers in all restrooms, or just in women’s restrooms.

“I think the one question that came up more frequently than others is why [put menstrual products] in the men’s rooms,” Wasiolek said. “If one’s resources are limited and they are trying to make the greatest impact especially for women in need, it seemed to make the most sense to concentrate those resources outside of men’s restrooms.”

Eventually, the program decided to supply all restrooms to address the consequences stemming from the recent House Bill 2 controversy by providing equal access to transgender individuals who may use other restrooms.

Pate said she previously worked on a similar initiative to have free dispensers for menstrual products installed in the bathrooms of the Bryan Center. Inspired by similar programs that provided free menstrual products at Brown University and Emory University, the Bryan Center’s pilot program ran during the Spring 2017 semester, and was overseen by the Department of Facilities Management in partnership with Student Affairs.

In contrast to the Bryan Center program, which was run by Duke administrators, Code Red is implemented by students.

“We now have a team of four students—[junior] Elle Chen, [junior] Hannah Ahrendt, [junior] Alice Chen [and myself]—refilling bins of tampons and pads in the bathrooms every week,” Pate said, referencing three other juniors who are involved with the project. 

The team keeps tallies of how many tampons and pads are used in each bathroom, she noted. Using that data, they are creating a proposal to convince the administration to take control over of the program, including installing and fully funding free dispensers for a more long-term project.

Pate explained that the Code Red team wants to demonstrate to the administration that menstrual hygiene products are a necessity—as important as soap or toilet paper—and should be available for free, and made as accessible as sexual health products like condoms.