Accommodating a Gender Minority in STEM Settings

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Women often are minorities at STEM institutions, and finding products to meet their unique health needs can sometimes be challenging in these settings. Barien Gad (BCHM, 3rd Year) has addressed this issue as a research fellow with the Socially Responsible Modeling, Computation, and Design (SoReMo) initiative.

Her research project, “Facilities, Amenities, and Accommodations from Minorities in STEM and the Impact on Illinois Tech’s Community,” not only presents the challenges that the menstruating population has in accessing free menstrual hygiene products, but  resulted in improving that access.

“When students have access to quality menstrual hygiene products, they can continue their daily lives with minimal interruption,” Barien says.

Barien’s research shows women and other menstruating populations at many universities have access to free menstrual hygiene products on campus. For example, University of Washington offers free feminine hygiene products in 90 bathrooms at 60 buildings.

Barien proposes installing and supplying dispensers in women's and gender-neutral bathrooms at The McCormick Tribune Campus Center, Rettaliata Engineering Center, Paul V. Galvin Library, and Hermann Hall—buildings in high foot traffic areas—will cost $4,460 and help menstruating students, especially those from low-income families.

“Regardless of whether or not I was awarded the fellowship, I would have pursued my project on a proposal for free menstrual sanitary products,” Barien says. “For my project, it was more of a convenience to pursue the fellowship because of the support from the involved faculty. Resources such as original and alternative ideas, connections, and overall support make SoReMo valuable.”

The research was conducted in conjunction with Women and Gender Minorities in STEM (WiSTEM), a student organization she co-founded this year.

“My personal experiences as a first-generation Muslim woman in STEM, and my passion for accessible healthcare allowed me to naturally spot a care disparity on campus for menstruating individuals,” Barien says. “Part of creating a supportive environment includes caring for the health needs of our members. Individually, I worked on battling stigmas surrounding menstruation and increasing accessibility to menstrual sanitary products on campus.”

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