Following major changes in its budget, ASUO has been implementing new programs targeting students’ basic needs this year. Some of these programs focus on making menstrual products more accessible for students as well as hiring basic needs and food security coordinators.
ASUO president Isaiah Boyd said ASUO shifted funding away from athletics to focus on providing aid for students and went about taking apart the athletics contract to use it for prioritizing basic needs.
ASUO’s previous contract budgeted $1.7 million for the athletics department to provide student tickets to sports events, Boyd said. “We noticed there was a big issue with that because not everyone wants to attend a football game,” he said. “Not every student wants to attend an athletics event, but every student does need textbooks. Every student does need basic needs.”
In early 2021, ASUO announced its basic needs proposal which shifted funds previously used for sport tickets to help with students’ basic needs like textbooks, menstrual products, emergency housing and food.
One of the projects included the implementation of accessible menstrual products in highly trafficked restrooms in the EMU.
The Oregon Legislature passed a bill this summer requiring “education providers, community colleges and universities in Oregon” to ensure students who menstruate have access to free menstrual products while at school.
Boyd said he was glad that the Oregon Legislature passed this bill. “It just so happened that I guess the entire state realized that this is a basic need,” he said. He said ASUO was unaware the legislature would pass a bill of this nature when it proposed its basic needs programs.
After the bill passed, ASUO was unsure if the University of Oregon received funding from the state. “We decided until that program gets developed further and we find secure funding that is sustainable, we’ll use our own budget,” Boyd said.
Now that the Oregon legislature has passed a bill requiring accessible menstrual products, Boyd said he hopes to work in collaboration with UO to show the impact of their program in the EMU. “We’re collecting data right now and seeing the impact that our program has just within the EMU, since it’s the central hub for students,” he said, “and then presenting that data to the university saying, ‘Hey, look, you have a legislative responsibility, and the rest of the campus is not being served.’”
If UO expands this program to the rest of campus, Boyd said ASUO will continue to fund operations within the EMU until UO takes over.
In addition to its program offering menstrual products in the EMU, ASUO also hopes to fund a basic needs coordinator to help assist students with things like financial support, understanding the cost of living in Eugene and other obstacles.
Boyd said the pandemic impacted the hiring process for the basic needs coordinator position. ASUO recently resumed its search for a basic needs coordinator and a food security coordinator. “We separated the two,” he said. “One to be focused solely on greater basic needs… and designating the food security coordinator to take on the larger task of our Food Security Task Force.”
ASUO senator Jon Laus said he is working on a project with ASUO senate president Claire O’Connor who is trying to create a “one-stop” for students from marginalized communities to come in and receive resources.
Other colleges in Oregon have also created positions to support students’ basic needs. Miguel Arellano Sanchez is Oregon State University’s basic needs navigator and helps students alleviate financial stress and navigate the school’s resources.
Sanchez said the Human Services Resource Center at OSU was established in 2008 and one of two was home to food pantries on a college campus in the country at the time.
“A lot of our programs that we have in-house through HSRC really help students alleviate a lot of their financial stress and have access to food,” Sanchez said. Sanchez said he helps students navigate financial aid and food security policies. He said a lot of students are not aware that they are eligible for federal programs like SNAP benefits.
“In my role, I’ve been able to help students be connected to some of these programs that do have a large financial impact on students’ ability to stay in school,” Sanchez said.
Through the implementation of programs offering menstrual product accessibility and a basic needs coordinator, Boyd said he hopes to build bridges across campus to get an understanding of students’ needs. “A lot of these programs were designed with that intention of ‘We’ve identified the key point issues for students across campus that are impacting their education,’” he said. “‘How do we solve that?’”
Leo Baudhuin contributed reporting to this story.