One Voice, A Thousand Cheers

One Voice, A Thousand Cheers

Carolyn He, Social Media Manager

This year, Morris Hill’s Hope Club hopes to the forefront the fight for female hygiene at Morris Hills. In particular, the HOPE club initiative HerLIFT will be tackling the issue of menstrual inequity. And if there is any club that can accomplish this lofty mission, it will surely be them. HerLIFT, since its start, has always been involved in female empowerment.

In 2021, three Morris Hills students–Shreshta Kushal, Anvitha Nekkanti, and Ananya Vasareddy–created HerLIFT, a school-based organization to benefit homeless women. Reflecting on the life experiences of their grandmothers in India, the HerLIFT founders became vocal and passionate advocates for womens’ rights and gender equality. To this day, current club members aim to, “focus on the hygienic needs, dignity, and health of homeless women and to improve the access to sanitary supplies of women in general, ” according to Ms. Paulson, club advisor for HOPE club.

Although HerLIFT members are still working diligently towards achieving the initial goals of its founders, with every new year comes more new goals. On the MH HOPE club website, the HerLIFT club describes their mission today as to, “foster a safe academic environment where all girls can learn and grow…[and] tackle gender inequality in the scholastic setting.” This year specifically, club members hope to “organize sanitary product drives and increase free sanitary product supplies in all school bathrooms”. Although they may be small in number, some seven strong, HerLIFT members are confident that their voices will be heard. After all, all it takes is one voice–one voice becomes a thousand cheers. 

The Fight for Menstrual Equity

Menstrual health has long since been a delicate topic in the academic setting. At our school, feminine hygiene is almost outright ignored, save for the seldom incident when a student needs to ask her friend for a pad. Menstrual products are not readily accessible in any bathrooms within the main building, instead being housed solely in the Health Office. 

Beyond the limited supply of physical products, this matter persists on a communal, social level. Although not obvious or audacious, students are often evasive in manner when discussing their menstrual cycles with others at school; phrases such as “I’m on my period”, “it’s that time of the month again,” or “I’m going through it” are often used in lieu of actually saying “I’m menstruating”. Granted, these tensions can arise in any social setting, as they stem from broader, more persistent social stigmas surrounding women’s menstruation. Nonetheless, various students have testified they do not feel comfortable discussing their menstrual health with teachers, classmates, or even friends. Sejal Butala, a sophomore, explains that “It’s all very awkward and inconvenient, plus our school needs better quality supplies”. When students need to ask the nurse or a peer for sanitary supplies, they can feel embarrassed. Moreover, poorly made sanitary supplies can contribute to the discomfort students are already feeling emotionally regarding their periods. Another student, Sojung Lee, agrees with that sentiment, suggesting that the school “get the pads with wings and improve the pad supply in general!” When schools neglect to provide sanitary supplies at all, it can inadvertently reinforce the message that menstruation is a topic to avoid altogether. 

For far too long, girls have either had to bring their own products from home or hurry to the nurse’s office for them (author’s note: this may not happen often, but when it does, it subtracts a good 15 minutes from class time. At that point, you may as well walk to the local CVS). 

The lack of resources can detract greatly from a student’s learning experience, as well as elicit unnecessary feelings of shame. Namely, this dynamic can place female students in uncomfortable positions of vulnerability and sheer, simple discomfort. 

The More, the Merrier 

Luckily, HerLIFT has plans this year to destimigitze menstrual health at Morris Hills once and for all. Nonetheless, battling toward such an ambitious goal will require the right allies. This year, HerLIFT will be working in conjunction with another of Morris Hill’s female affinity clubs: Girl Up.  HerLIFT and Girl Up members are excited to work together with the common goal of empowerment.

Second Time’s the Charm

This won’t be the first time students have attempted to mobilize a movement for menstrual equity. Just last year, HerLIFT successfully got period products into the Academy Building restrooms. Dr. Toriello, principal of Morris Hills, was even encouraged to buy a product dispenser at the behest of students and teachers. Senior Sophia Castano lauds this accomplishment as a, “huge and impactful win for our mission.” The HerLIFT drive received boxes upon boxes of pads and tampons, allowing the Academy restrooms to remain well-stocked for a while. On the flip side, concerted efforts remain to be made for restrooms in the main building… When asked why products were only offered in the Academy building, Dr. Toriello presented the matter from a geographical standpoint, explaining how “the Academy building is a separate building from the main building.”

By the end of the 2023 school year, the club’s ultimate mission is to provide a steady and complimentary supply of menstrual products in all Morris Hills restrooms. However, HerLIFT is also facing other administrative and financial constraints that put them behind in fully implementing this initiative. In New Jersey, free and accessible sanitary supplies are not required in schools. The process of buying supplies itself is needlessly complex, as vendors have to be approved and accept purchase orders for payment–many do not. According to Mr. Erazo, the district’s Supervisor for the Custodial Staff, the most they can do is “follow state vendor and purchasing protocols,” even if it means supplies are sparse and restricted to the nurse’s office. 

Whether this will be through conducting menstrual product drives, partnering with sustainable vendors, or creating petitions to increase menstrual equity, members of HerLIFT are determined to let their voices be heard. After all, all it takes is for one to raise their voice; one voice becomes a thousand more…Will you join in the cheer?