Officials to install contraceptive vending machine in student center after SA push

Media Credit: Sage Russell | Photographer

Neharika Rao, the SA's executive secretary of diversity, equity and inclusion, and Aiza Saeed, the executive cabinet's communications director, worked with officials to develop the logistics behind installing the machine and pricing the contraceptives.

 


Story update: Officials install contraceptive vending machine

Officials installed and opened the contraceptive vending machine in the University Student Center Tuesday morning.

The machine sells a generic version of Plan B for $25. CVS currently sells Plan B at $49.99 per pill, according to its website.

Posted: Tuesday, Jan. 24 at 4:29 p.m.


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Updated: Tuesday, Jan. 24, 2023 at 4:29 p.m.

Officials are set to install a contraceptive pill vending machine in the University Student Center Tuesday in an effort to support students’ access to reproductive health resources seven months after the Supreme Court struck down the federal right to an abortion.

The machine, which SA members said will be ready to use later this week, will offer Plan B and other medical supplies like Tylenol, Advil and tampons for students on the ground floor of the University Student Center near the GWorld Card Office. Assistant Dean of Student Life Brian Joyce said officials “worked directly” with Student Association leaders since the start of the school year to install the machine, performing research and meeting with Northeastern University officials, who already installed similar machines.

“In the wake of Roe v. Wade, students advocated to remove multiple barriers they faced in accessing needs for reproductive health,” Joyce said in an email.

SA President Christian Zidouemba and his executive cabinet approached officials at Northeastern University this summer, which installed Plan B vending machines on their campus in October, for advice on how to do the same at GW. Zidouemba said after he pitched the project to Dean of Student Life Collette Coleman in early September, SA members and officials started meeting to plan the logistics surrounding the machine.

“I believe that this is a new initiative that will benefit our University overall,” Zidouemba said in an interview. “And those who oftentimes don’t have the money or are shy will be able to purchase the product at a lower cost.”

Zidouemba delegated the project to sophomore Neharika Rao – the SA’s executive secretary of diversity, equity and inclusion – in September. Rao said officials were “quick to support” the project.

Rao then recruited Aiza Saeed, the executive cabinet’s communications director, to collaborate with her on the project. The two worked closely with Joyce and other administrators to develop the logistics behind installing the machine and pricing the contraceptives.

“With the implementation of an emergency contraceptive machine at GW’s campus, students will feel supported and at ease in a time of need,” she said in an email.

Rao said Plan B from the machine will be sold at $30 as of this week, but she hopes the price will decrease as the machine gains use. CVS currently sells Plan B at $49.99 per pill, according to its website.

Universities across the country have rushed to expand student access to contraceptives after the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade in June, which triggered widespread protests in defense of reproductive rights.

Northeastern University currently offers sexual health supplies, like condoms and Advil, at no cost to students, while emergency contraceptives, including Plan B, cost $7. Northeastern unveiled its “wellness vending machine” in October, which took about a semester to finalize.

Boston University installed a similar machine in March.

This past Sunday marked the 50th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, and the White House reaffirmed its commitment to reproductive rights as activists participated in the Women’s March.

Student leaders at GW submitted an open letter calling on administrators to remove Supreme Court Associate Justice Clarence Thomas from his faculty position at GW Law after he voted in favor of overturning Roe v. Wade in June. In late July, Thomas stepped down from teaching the Constitutional Law Seminar that he planned to co-teach in fall 2022.

More than 25 students said increasing access to contraceptives will promote sexual health, but the machine’s location in the publicly accessible University Student Center may pose privacy concerns.

Aaliyah Guzman, a sophomore majoring in political communication, said officials should install contraceptive vending machines in residence halls, where many students might be more likely to realize they need contraceptives during any hour of the day or night. They said the limited hours of the student center, which closes from midnight to 7 a.m. daily, could be an obstacle to quick access to the medical supplies.

“Wherever they put it, it needs to be a place where students can get into all day,” Guzman said. “The student center closes at midnight right now, which is not extremely helpful.”

Ashvini Selvanayagam, a sophomore studying public health, said the installation of the machine and their easy access could reduce stigma surrounding the use of contraceptives.

“I definitely think it would help destigmatize and also normalize the idea of Plan B and also talking about sex as something that’s normal,” she said.

Selvanayagam said she became concerned over her sexual welfare after the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade because it demonstrated the politicization of sexual health. She said the installation of the machine would make her more comfortable because it would provide a more guaranteed way to access contraceptives in an emergency.

“Especially since the pandemic, it definitely puts my right to have control over my own body at risk,” she said. “So it definitely put a lot of questions in the air.”

Lucy Pritchard, a freshman studying political science, said while the University Center is still partly inaccessible to students because the building is closed from midnight to 7 a.m., increased access to contraceptives could relieve stress for students who need quick access to them during their daily class schedule.

“It helps you manage your life, and it’ll take stress away from students, which will make people do better in classes,” Pritchard said. “If you don’t have access to that, then it can be a very stressful experience.”

Erika Filter contributed reporting.

This post has been updated to clarify the following:
This post has been updated to clarify Pritchard’s comments about the location of the machine.

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