Op-ed: Honesty is the best policy for periods

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Absences due to periods should not negatively affect a student’s grade. / Illustration by Ally Rzesa

By Katie Schmidt

One morning last spring, I was lying in bed, feeling drained and dizzy, with an excessive amount of lower abdominal pain. It was the second day of my period. As I began an email to my professor that explained my absence, I paused. Was I really going to tell my professor I was on my period?

In my experience, there has never been any discussion on how to inform your professor you’re missing class because of your period. I feared that mentioning menstruation to my middle-aged, male professor would draw an awkward response. Given the stigma around periods and how they are often perceived as “gross,” I worried that my professor would become uneasy or even repulsed. This stigma even convinced me that my period was too personal and controversial of a topic to mention to my professor.

Instead I used “personal issues” as my reason. I knew my professor would suspect I was ditching class, but I did have a legitimate excuse for a health-related issue. It wasn’t fair that menstruation happened to be one of the most stigmatized bodily functions.

When menstruation prevents a student from class, that student should not be responsible for conjuring some secondary excuse. More importantly, professors—specifically those at an institution as progressive as Emerson—should feel more open mentioning periods as a valid absence at the beginning of each semester. By introducing the topic themselves, professors will show a disregard for the stigma around menstruation. Students will then see this as an indication that honesty around their periods is accepted.

Emerson Flows, the school’s PERIOD chapter, already helped establish us as a “period-friendly” college by providing free feminine hygiene products in women’s, men’s, and gender-neutral restrooms on campus. While the work of Emerson Flows is vital for ending some of the stigma around periods, the protocol for period-related absences still remains taboo.

Professors should be understanding of this monthly occurrence enough to uphold it with Emerson’s attendance policy, which currently allows professors the authority to dictate how many tardies and absences are acceptable before a student’s grade is affected. Absences due to periods should not negatively affect a student’s grade.

One may argue that students will start to use their periods as a justification to ditch class. Others may even question if periods are painful enough to miss class in the first place.

Periods only occur on a monthly basis, leaving no opportunity for students to abuse this policy at their will. Besides, a student who wants to abuse a policy just to get out of class probably isn’t cut out for college or the real world.

Secondly, yes, periods can be that painful. According to an article by Health magazine, periods can reduce one’s pain tolerance, affect constipation, increase the risk of yeast infections, and promote clumsiness. All of these lesser-known symptoms commonly occur on top of the standard abdominal cramps, nausea, dizziness, mood-swings, and bloating.

An article from The Guardian details that 20 percent of women suffer from menstrual cramps severe enough to interfere with daily activities. The notion that those who get periods must silently persevere through classes, jobs, and other duties while in a considerate amount of pain is unjust.

Just as the pain from an illness is a justifiable excuse for your professor, so is menstrual pain. Eliminating the hesitation around speaking to professors about periods is the first step towards ending the larger stigma. Part of the solution relies on professors to welcome and respect the discussion of periods, and the other part relies on students to speak about them— as if no stigma exists at all.