We sat down with Viet Nguyen, a recent Brown graduate who made an initiative for free menstrual products on campus. The project not only includes women but trans men as well. Here is what he said about being an activist on campus:
What made you want to take action in providing free menstrual products for women? Was there a specific event you observed that inspired you?
Viet: Coming from a low-income family, I saw the impact that having or not having menstrual products had on the health and well-being of my family members. Last summer, after reading about the work done by New York Public Schools to provide these products for their students, I was inspired to use my platform has head of the student government to implement a similar program at Brown.
What steps did you take to start changing the way your university thought about the issue? How did you gain support?
Viet: We secured funding through the student activities fund for the pilot program. Because of the newness of the program, we had to distribute the tampons ourselves. We had a schedule that rotated every few weeks. Students would go around and fill up baskets in the public bathrooms. It was incredible seeing students volunteering and giving their time to this great cause.
What challenges did you face in trying to create this program? How did you overcome your challenges?
Viet: At Brown, we were very intentional and placed tampons in all bathrooms regardless of gender. We wanted to be as trans inclusive as possible. This initially caused much confusion among some people and news outlets. They attacked us for not "understanding biology." We knew we were doing good work and focused on the impact that we were making rather than focus on the negativity.
Your program has been very successful, do you believe this will carry on for years to come?
Viet: I believe this year, the student government is working with administrators to institutionalize the program. Hopefully it will be funded by the University and distributed in a way that doesn't rely on unpaid student labor.
Why is it important for other students to take initiative and try to free menstrual products at their own universities? Do you have any advice for students who want to free menstrual products on their campus?
Viet: Some times it's faster to do it yourself at first than to convince others, whether its the University or other student groups, to take on the project. You have so much autonomy and once people see the benefits and demand of the project, it makes it much easier to convince others to take it on.