From 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. University Health Services (UHS) is open for students to get medical assistance. However, the services are closed after evenings and on weekends, a time period when students may be without immediate access when they need it the most.
Increasing access to health-related products, providing lower prices and reducing the negative stigma and discomfort that can come with purchasing sex-related health products has been the six-month-long project of junior economics major Haydn Bryan.
Bryan’s goal is to place a vending machine on campus stocked with Plan B, feminine hygiene products, contraceptives, lubricant, first aid, cold medicines, allergy relievers and lip balm.
He’s not alone. According to The New York Times, universities across the country are placing such vending machines on their campuses. Bryan reached out to Parteek Singh, the former student body president of University of California, Davis, to receive information on how to bring a vending machine system similar to UC Davis’s to Boise State.
“I definitely feel like these items are important, especially in critical care situations,” Bryan said. “There are many reasons students may not be able to access health products, such as lack of healthcare, cost, time or embarrassment. The goal is to provide a solution for that.”
The machine—planned to accept both cash and card—is hoped to be in place and ready for students by the end of the fall semester.
The need at Boise State
As of now, Boise State does not have any options similar to this vending machine. Health Services is available only 29 hours a week; a few cold relievers are available at Provisions on Demand (POD) stores. As for contraceptives, condoms are available in some resident halls and the Gender Equity Center. However, access to any product is dependent on the hours of these facilities. Further, according to Bryan, students may be deterred from reaching out to access contraceptives or feminine hygiene products due to embarrassment or negative stigmas.
Bryan reached out to Health Services and Director of Wellness Michelle Ihmels, one of his primary contacts in the early stages of planning.
“I had not heard of a vending machine to the extent of what these ones can carry,” Ihmels said. “We have food and condom vending machines, but not one that is as inclusive in its product availability.”
Ihmels explained the items within the vending machine are often needed and used by students during weekends and evenings—after UHS business hours.
“I like the idea of the convenience for some of the items. This will also make it safer for students to access these products,” Ihmels said. “On the wellness side, this will have a positive impact because students will have access to the things they need.”
For students, accessibility, affordability and privacy are key.
“The machine makes these items more accessible for students on campus and even faculty,” said junior health science major Makaela Bournazian who is writing the bill asking for funding from Associated Students of Boise State University (ASBSU). “The POD is not always open and it might not have the items you need. Health Services is also very limited in hours and neither accounts for the privacy or affordability of students.”
This machine is also unique in its inclusion of contraceptives, according to Bryan. Bournazian agrees, explaining that, despite contraception being an uncomfortable topic, it is important to talk and engage with it.
Bryan explained the items–such as condoms and Plan B–should be available alongside cold medicines and feminine hygiene products.
“All items are over-the-counter and could be purchased at a Walgreens or a Walmart. However, Walgreens and Walmart may not be the most accessible or available to students in need,” Bryan said.
A study conducted by the University of Minnesota in 2015 cites 74.1 percent of college students reported being sexually active in their lifetime, 63 percent within the last year. Availability to these products would provide an accessible option for preventative care relevant to the student population, according to Bryan.
“Preventive care is important because, despite what is going on (politically), I still have control over my body,” Bournazian said. “This saves people from situations they don’t want to be in.”
According to the proposal, the vending machine will not only be stocked with health and wellness products, but also include a resource posting with information regarding the products and a list of departments to contact if they need help. The health benefits fulfilled, as mentioned in the proposal, include “enabling students to proactively and quickly manage everyday health issues and promote class attendance by reducing student sick time.”
“We [Health Services] are here to serve the needs of the students. The students feel there is a need, I look at this as an extension of the services we already provide,” Ihmels said.
Bryan also hopes this approach will have positive social implications when it comes to how students view health products and services.
“When you have the vending machine next to one stocked with food, it helps to reduce the stigma around these items. It gets people to see that these are normal products everyday people need to use,” Bryan said. Additionally, students will have the ability to give feedback on what they need based on different price points and brands offered.
“I want to dive deep into the sales reporting to gauge student need to see what students want,” Bryan said.
The next steps to implementation
The current proposal places the vending machine on either the third or fourth floor of the library, or the second floor of the Student Union Building. The library allows for the most hours available—particularly during finals week—and privacy desired for students to feel comfortable. However, student feedback has also called for the second floor of the SUB to be an option due to its central location, according to Bryan. As he is considering both locations, it comes down to feasibility and student need.
Up until now, Bryan has received support from UHS and the Boise State University Bookstore, as well as possible sponsorship from the library if placed there. He is aiming to receive funding from ASBSU.
“As Health Services, this is something we support,” Ihmels said. “We see the need–but it must be student driven.”
Bournazian will be introducing the bill to ASBSU by November. The bill will discuss the funding, the need, student advocacy, costs, products, logistics and the support from health services.
Bryan is also looking into the purchasing of products. The University can go through vendors in order to buy larger quantities and different brands, which makes it cheaper, according to Bryan.
“The unique part is we are looking to have the lowest price possible to make it sustainable. We are not looking to make a profit,” Bryan said.