On Tuesday night, the third annual Menstrual Health Panel took place in JBD. The event was sponsored by Mactivists for Reproductive Justice and featured a panel of students, along with two area professionals. Student panelists included Michelle Kiang-Hinojosa ’15, Sara Saltman ’15, Emma Stout ’15 and Jinath Tasnim ’16. Jackie Trelawny, a community health and sex educator from Family Tree Clinic, and Jasmine Abraham, a full-spectrum doula with Spiral Collective were chosen as professional panelists.
According to co-chair Alizarin Menninga ’15, Mactivists sought out women of color doing radical education and reproductive health work in the Twin Cities and were able to find both professional panelists through networking.
The event, which was moderated by Menninga, began with an introduction of all the panelists. The two professionals answered previously-selected questions and spoke about their jobs and the work that they did around sex education. They touched on issues relating to gender and language used when discussing menstruation and sex education in general.
Afterwards, the student panelists opened up about their experiences surrounding menstruation and reproductive health. The panel then took questions from the audience, and a dialogue opened up where audience members were able to answer each other’s questions and share anecdotes about their experiences with menstruation, hygiene products and stigmas associated with such topics. After the panel, attendees were given a variety of products, including sea sponges, Diva cups and reusable pads.
Topics discussed ranged from homeopathic remedies used during menstruation to dealing with Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome to the feelings of shame and uncomfortableness many had experienced surrounding these issues.
“The Menstrual Health Panel seems like one of very few sites I’ve encountered for positive, open, affirming and educational discussions about menstruation,” Mactivist co-chair Kate Gallagher ’16 said. “The event gives our community a chance to share embodied knowledge in a shame-free environment and come together around this topic that is important and closely held by many people. The Menstrual Health Panel also gives us a chance to distribute sustainable, cost effective, less mainstream menstrual materials to Macalester students as well as learning together about effectively using these materials.”
The panel, which was started three years ago by Mac alum Rebecca Gans ’14, has become an annual event and has attracted a steady crowd every year.
“The panel has intentionally [and] dramatically changed since my first year. In the beginning the event was almost like a Diva Cup infomercial—all of the panelists we selected used the cup, many of our questions were about the cup, and the cup was the only menstrual material that we distributed,” Gallagher said. “Last year we tried to include a wider range of panelists but ended up not asking the right questions to really capture the diversity of experiences across the panel. We have been making a conscious effort to make the event more trans inclusive. This effort has mostly been made through the language we use at the panel and the professional panelists we select. We intentionally searched for professional panelists who are aware of the fact that menstruation shouldn’t be talked about in a gendered way.”
According to Gallagher, the diversity represented at the panel is part of what makes it so successful.
“We were glad to bring together a group of people who had varying experiences and emotional connections with their periods ranging from ‘I use a certain type of birth control so I don’t get my period’ to ‘I love my period and how it makes me feel in tune with my body’ to ‘I don’t get my period very often because of the way my hormones exist in my body but this is a valid menstrual narrative as well,’” Gallagher said. “I think this diversity is really what makes the menstrual health panel beautiful. It is accessible and validating for those who participate. We all have different relationships with our bodies, we all have different stories, but we also share this experience that connects us across these differences. This panel really creates a special moment of reflection and community that I think you would be hard pressed to find somewhere else.”
Panelists echoed the idea that the panel serves as a way for people to find resources they may not otherwise have access to.
“People have all of these questions that they’ve been waiting to ask somebody without being judged,” Trelawny said.
“It’s good practice to be talking about these things and to be open about them and have a discussion about it on campus,” agreed Saltman.
Mactivists for Reproductive Justice meetings are on Tuesdays at 8:00 p.m. in the GSRC.