‘Blood Buds’: UIC students advocating for sustainable menstruation on Campus

Divya Krishnakumar, Abigail Suleman and Amy Chang

Meet Abigail Suleman, Amy Chang and Divya Krishnakumar — three UIC students breaking menstrual stigmas by encouraging open conversations on menstruation and advocating for greater access to menstrual products on UIC’s campus.

These students formed Blood Buds after seeing a need for more sustainable menstrual practices at UIC.

“Community and support are built into the name of Blood Buds,” Suleman said. “We began as a group of three students helping each other become familiar enough with their bodies to use a menstrual cup for the first time in 2020.”

Menstruation is a topic encompassed by a history of cultural taboos and stigmatization, which often results in inadequate health education. Furthermore, this can prevent menstruators from having access to the resources they need. The Blood Buds initiative was established to address these issues by educating UIC students about sustainable menstrual health and hygiene management practices. Through the support of a grant from the UIC Office of Sustainability, Blood Buds purchased menstrual cups from Dot, a local menstrual cup company. During the Spring 2021 semester, these menstrual cups were distributed at no cost to UIC students.

To those unfamiliar with the term, a menstrual cup is made of medical-grade silicon and collects period blood instead of absorbing it like traditional tampons and pads. As they are non-absorbent, menstrual cups can be used for up to 12 hours and can last up to 10 years before needing replacement. Overall, menstrual cups help decrease plastic consumption and waste, and are also a more affordable alternative.

Through collaborations with CodeRed, GlobeMed, WISE-MED and UIC Campus Housing, Blood Buds hosted a series of educational panels and presentations addressing sustainable menstruation practices and stigma over the Spring 2021 semester. They taught students about menstrual cups while creating a space to discuss period poverty, pain, stigma and policy.

Blood Buds also launched a survey to examine perceptions of menstruation and gauge the prevalence of period poverty at UIC. They found that students at UIC report facing financial barriers to accessing menstrual products and that these barriers were exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. Additionally, Blood Buds learned that a third of respondents were unfamiliar with the term “period poverty.” Providing a reflection on the survey results.

“The Blood Buds Survey highlights the need for active efforts to address menstrual stigma on UIC’s campus,” Krishnakumar said. “We see that there are gaps in knowledge with respect to menstrual cups, which we hope to continue targeting through our programming.”

At the conclusion of their first semester, Blood Buds presented their work at the UIC School of Public Health’s Minority Health Conference and were awarded the UIC Maurice Prize for their efforts. Blood Buds plans to continue developing their project, emphasizing inclusivity and the de-stigmatization of menstruation every step of the way. Looking to the future, Chang said that she hopes to continue Blood Buds’ momentum by implementing more accessible routes to menstrual cups and other sustainable menstruation methods on campus for all menstruators.

To stay informed on the Blood Buds initiative, follow them on instagram @bloodbuds.uic or email any questions to bloodbudsuic@gmail.com

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