As a high school student in Virginia, Mackenzie Syiem, a Sullivan Foundation Field Trip alumnus and cofounder of the social enterprise SEED., watched Netflix’s award-winning documentary “Short, Period. End of Sentence” and immediately felt moved to email students, faculty and staff to stress the need for menstrual products in the school’s restrooms.
She again championed the cause shortly after arriving at Wofford College, a Sullivan Foundation partner school, in 2019 and made requests to a Campus Union candidate last spring. “Menstrual products should be freely available,” said Syiem, an English and Spanish major from Shillong, Meghalaya, India. “It’s as necessary as toilet paper.”
The request was heard, and a team of students took action.
“As I was campaigning for student body president, I started an Instagram campaign where I would ask Wofford students to share their concerns, questions, comments—literally anything that they would like to see changed at Wofford,” said Destiny Shippy, a sociology and anthropology major from Spartanburg, who is a senior delegate. “Kenzie said she wanted to see free menstrual products around campus. When I saw this, I instantly began thinking about the people to contact to make this happen, because it’s such a necessity.”
Shippy was connected with Sera Guerry, an at-large delegate with Campus Union and a student coordinator in the college’s Office of Diversity and Inclusion, as well as Woods Wooten, the chair of Campus Union’s Campus Relations Committee. The three of them partnered with Syiem and had discussions with the college’s administration. Dispensers were installed over the summer in six restrooms across campus.
Syiem didn’t just request support for the project. She had been ensuring that menstrual products were available across campus.
As a first-year student, Syiem began stocking menstrual products in the restroom on her hall. She encouraged women to take what they needed. Through her work creating content for Just Periods, she has received supplies to distribute across campus and she’s shared products for houses in the college’s Greek village and supplies that are given to local women’s shelters.
After returning from a Sullivan Foundation social entrepreneurship field trip to Raleigh, N.C. in September 2019, Syiem went on to cofound SEED., a social-impact business that empowers artisans and craftspeople to sell their products—such as jewelry, artwork, bags and more—internationally, with profits going to support the programs that she and cofounder Grace Gehlken care about. “I got to meet amazing entrepreneurs who had created powerful social ventures and hear directly from them about their experiences,” she later recalled in an interview with the foundation. “That trip inspired me and helped me feel like I could do the same thing that all those amazing founders had done as long as I had the passion and was willing to put in the work.”
Menstrual equity is one of her favorite causes, and Syiem has found that gaining support for the movement at Wofford College isn’t difficult. “All it takes is a conversation,” she said. “It’s hard to ignore the facts. Ninety-nine percent of the time I hear, ‘I never knew that was an issue.’ But I go into the conversation expecting them to get it because it’s so logical.”
Guerry shared that experience. “Surprisingly, we found that there was very little, if any, pushback from students, faculty and staff and that there was, in actuality, a solid amount of support among those we spoke with,” says Guerry, a religion major from Moncks Corner, S.C.
Guerry says details needed to be addressed concerning the installation of dispensers, and the students found Aunt Flow, a social impact company that sells organic menstrual products while donating products to people in need. The college purchased dispensers from the company.
“It feels really good to know that my female peers have access to these dispensers and that we will continue to work with Wofford to make sure our campus is welcoming to everyone,” said Wooten, a government major from Lexington, South Carolina.
This article has been edited and expanded from the original version appearing on the Wofford College website.