Vending machines are a college student’s best friend: always there for them humming away in the basement of their dorm, chock full of sweet, chewy candies and salty chips with an assortment of carbonated drinks to satisfy any craving. But colleges across the country are now including different late-night items in their machines. Pomona College, Tufts University and the University of Pennsylvania have been stocking their vending machines with contraceptives, including condoms and the morning after pill, also known as Plan B.
GW should add items like Plan B, tampons and over-the-counter medication to their pre-existing vending machines to make them more health conscious and receptive to student needs.
In April, the University of California, Davis became the latest school to add what they call a “Wellness To Go” machine. Student senators voted for condoms, tampons, pregnancy tests and the morning after pill instead of their usual fare of Hot Cheetos and Red Bull. Parteek Singh, a former student senator at UC Davis, spent two years bargaining with the school’s health services office and campus store to deliver on his campaign promise of making Plan B more affordable for students. A “Wellness To Go” vending machine is something that “every college should look into,” urged Singh in an LA Times interview. GW is no exception.
GW has taken a step in the right direction. In March 2015, the University began to stock $2 packs of condoms in each residence hall vending machine. Associate Dean of Students Tim Miller introduced the idea of selling condoms in vending machines in response to student concerns about remaining anonymous while buying birth control. By offering contraceptives in vending machines, “no one knows if you’re buying a Twinkie or if you’re buying a condom,” remarked Miller when the machines were implemented five years ago. But for college students, accessibility to health and wellness services includes far more than just male condoms. Obtaining products like Plan B shouldn’t be restricted to University health centers.
Vending machines offer extended accessibility to contraceptives and other products when current University health services are far from 24/7. Even though the CVS on campus offers health and wellness products at all hours of the day, some students crave a more private way to purchase condoms or Plan B without the stigma or taboo. Unfortunately, the Colonial Health Center isn’t a viable option for many student scenarios either. CHC’s hours can be restrictive for student schedules because it isn’t open during nights and weekends, when students are most likely to seek contraceptives. CHC is open Monday through Friday from 8:30 a.m. to 5:00 p.m, and on Saturdays for urgent care from only 9:00 to 11:00 a.m. Additionally, if a student has unprotected sex on a Friday, they would not be able to get Plan B from CHC until Monday. And by then, Plan B would be far less effective. Vending machines that are accessible around-the-clock solves the University’s inability to provide immediate access to products like Plan B, which loses an estimated 15 percent of its effectiveness for every 12 hours after intercourse.
Although many students have raised concerns about the cost of “Wellness To Go” vending machines, other universities have only shelled out pocket change to cover the initial expenses of installation. For instance, University of California-Santa Barbara vending machines include Plan B, condoms, lube, tampons, pads and nonprescription pain relievers at a lower rate than the doctor’s office. In UCSB vending machines, students can purchase the Plan B pill for $25 instead of the area rate of $50 or even $60. Health officials said that the school uses proceeds from the vending machine sales to keep it restocked during the year. Like UCSB, GW could easily funnel the money from sales directly back into the machines, making them largely self-sufficient on the student profits raised.
In order to provide day-and-night accessibility to health and wellness products, in addition to the Oatmeal Cream Pies currently in residence hall vending machines, options like Plan B, female condoms, personal hygiene products and non-prescription medication should be offered. Wellness vending machines are a convenient, low cost, anonymous service that allows students to stay protected — all with the push of a button.
Sydney Erhardt, a junior majoring in international affairs, is a Hatchet columnist.
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