Period absence project could provide excused absences for menstruation
Painful periods (known as dysmenorrhea) negatively impact students’ ability to attend class, complete assignments and study for exams. However, these effects are consistently ignored by UTD professors. Sara Juneja, the academic committee chair for SG, was personally affected by the lack of accommodations during painful periods and initiated the period absence project. After years of navigating through lack of awareness on how severe period pain can interrupt normal day to day activities, Juneja developed a passion to make meaningful policy change.
“Right now, we are working on getting approved by the academic senate to have three entire days where you can take off for menstrual symptoms,” Juneja said. “Cramps, nausea or anything related to your period would be grounds for using one of those days.”
The student government academic affairs committee aims to create a student portal to communicate absences more effectively. This portal would be integrated into the UTD Firewall system, which would send an automatic email to the student’s professors. It would only enable menstruating individuals to utilize an excused absence once every three weeks, to simulate a regular menstrual cycle. Despite the blind spot for those that experience irregular cycles, it is essential to take small steps to avoid backlash from professors. Once the policy is set in place, the academic committee hopes to make expansions to increase its accessibility and ease.
“I’m actually meeting with Frank Feagans [the vice president and chief information officer] to see [if] it is even feasible and if logistically [it is possible],” Juneja said. “It seems really simple. But they’ll just tell me if they’re willing to do this for us. If not, we’ll have to go through ECS and find students eager to get hands-on experience.”
The greatest pushback against the project has been from university faculty, particularly professors concerned about misuse of the absence policy. However, the policy has been carefully designed to prevent abuse. Students could not simply skip a class with an exam or even take consecutive days off. Once a student utilizes this excused absence, they are expected to rest the entire day and return to their classes the next day. It is important to note that this policy would only apply to professors that do not already have excused absences integrated into their classrooms. Despite pushback, SG surveys indicate student support from both women and men has been overwhelmingly positive. The academic committee is constantly receiving more feedback for improvement and survey responses. If this policy passes, UTD would be the first university to implement such menstrual accommodations.
“I think we need to take more care of our students, especially regarding work and personal life,” Juneja said. “Life happens and allowing students to care more for themselves will lead to better mental health on campus and less burnout. And I think people must realize that students are paying to be here. And even if they have absences, they’re not going to abuse it because they know they must get things done. They’re going to put effort into what they need to at the end of the day anyway.”