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Feeling the pain of period poverty, illiteracy, assumptions

WWU Menstrual Health Advocacy destigmatizes menstruation, provides resources for the Whatcom community

Zoe Meek works the table at the cramp simulator event in Red Square at Western Washington University on Nov. 16, 2023 while Violeta Vega Garcia, Piper Jones and Ava Kuhlmann hold signs relating to menstrual health advocacy. This event aimed to spread awareness about menstruation. // Photo courtesy of Ava Kuhlmann

Western Washington University students may have encountered a period cramp simulator booth set up in Red Square this quarter. Those brave enough to try it experience what many people feel when on their menstrual cycle via small electrical pulses that cause cramping in the abdominal muscles. 

This booth is run by the WWU Menstrual Health Advocacy program, one of the groups formed in the Leadership Studies class, Introduction to Leadership Studies. This group is overseen by the Morse Leadership Institute, which “provides a variety of support structures and opportunities for students across Western’s campus to develop as leaders,” according to the Morse Leadership Institute’s website. 

Each quarter, students in the Introduction to Leadership Studies class focus on a different goal. This quarter, the goal was to raise money for local women’s shelters and donate to them, said Hayleigh Tramm, a fourth-year student at Western and one of the facilitators for this quarter’s project. Next quarter, the focus will be working with Planned Parenthood at the Bellingham Health Center, she said. 

“My focus was ending stigma and kind of realizing that not every person that experiences a period technically identifies as a woman,” said Emma Lawrence, a student in the leadership class who organizes the events for Menstrual Health Advocacy. 

Menstrual Health Advocacy also helps students at Western by giving out free menstrual products like pads, tampons and sustainable products such as menstrual cups and reusable pads, Tramm said. These are available to any student at the booths or events that they hold. 

Period poverty, or the inability to obtain menstrual products due to their rising expense, impacts many college students. 

“There are times when money is tight and I have to rely on free products or reusable products,” said Kylie Mattson, a fourth-year Western student. She said she has to dig to find free products, as they are not easy to find. 

Since 2022, Western has made period products free in every female and gender-neutral bathroom. This is a result of the passing of HB 1273, which has required all schools in Washington state to provide period products for students at no cost. 

Cramp simulator table

The table at the cramp simulator event was held in Red Square at Western Washington University on Nov. 16, 2023. Free menstruation products, snacks and information about the group were given out at the event. // Photo courtesy of Ava Kuhlmann

At Pacific Lutheran University in Tacoma, the PERIOD club aims to help their fellow students by providing free access to menstrual health products. 

“About 43% of our menstruators on-campus experience period poverty, where the national average is 10%,” said Ash Bechtel, the co-president of PERIOD at PLU. 

PERIOD has been working on creating menstrual bags, a brown paper sack that has all of the period products that someone would need for one cycle including tampons and pads. Students would be able to pick them up from their campus food pantry, Bechtel said. 

At Western, the bathrooms are often out of pads and tampons, and the products available at the market are outrageously priced, Mattson said. 

Menstrual Health Advocacy’s events aim to end the stigma and assumptions around periods, as well as educate Western students about menstruation. 

“We noticed with the cramp simulator table, a lot of people are really interested in learning,” said Husenia Gomez, a student at Western who also facilitates this quarter’s projects for Menstrual Health Advocacy. 

For many Western students, the stigma around periods starts early, dating back to a lack of education in elementary school during sex ed, Lawrence said. 

“We're trying to show people who don't get periods what it's like, just a little bit of the pain that we go through,” said Zoe Meek, another student in Introduction to Leadership Studies who organized the event in Red Square. 

Even college students still have misconceptions about menstruation, which impacts them in many ways. 

“Even talking to friends who have a uterus, they don’t always know everything about periods. That’s why education is huge,” Mattson said. 


This is something that Menstrual Health Advocacy strives to educate students on. 

“Not every single person gets the same symptoms during their period and the pain is not the same for everyone. Something our group wants to highlight is that periods are not gross,” Gomez said. 

Mattson said her endometriosis diagnosis has caused severely painful periods, resulting in fainting and vomiting.

Menstrual Health Advocacy has worked to be more inclusive of all people with a menstrual cycle. 

“I know that Menstrual Health Advocacy used to be called Days of Girls and they changed it just to make it more inclusive,” Lawrence said.  

PERIOD aims to do the same with their club, advocating for period products in all campus bathrooms, including men’s. They decided this based on feedback they received from transgender and non-binary queer students, said Taylor Pasquale, the other co-president of PERIOD at PLU. 

WWU Menstrual Health Advocacy will continue the program next quarter. Each quarter, new students in the Introduction to Leadership Studies class will take the project in a new direction, Tramm said. 

Their program's goal is to do work for students at Western and the Whatcom community by donating to women’s shelters and working with local nonprofits. 

More information about the program and their upcoming events can be found here.

Olivia Marty

Olivia Marty (she/her) is a campus life reporter for The Front. She is a sophomore majoring in public relations journalism. In her spare time, Olivia loves going thrifting, watching documentaries, and crafting. She can be reached at

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