A Plan B for Plan B? BSU students propose vending machine for contraceptives

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The idea came to Haydn Bryan in the form of a Snapchat news story.

Bryan is the chief of staff for the Associated Students of Boise State University. One day while perusing the social media picture sending application, Bryan saw a story about a vending machine at the University of California, Davis. But this was no ordinary vending machine.

The machine, the product of student Parteek Singh’s thinking, sold health and wellness products, including condoms and emergency contraceptives. Upon hearing about it, Bryan had an idea: why not have such a machine at Boise State, too?

“The feedback from students was really positive,” Bryan said.

The concept for the machine, called Wellness to Go at UC Davis, is simple: While contraceptives and other items are available at university health centers, they are not available when students need them most, Bryan’s proposal to Boise State argues. Boise State’s University Health and Wellness Center is closed on weekends, which forces students to make, “a choice – travel off campus to buy products, or engage in unsafe sexual activity,” according to the proposal.

He began work on the proposal to Boise State at the end of 2017. The project to get the Health and Wellness vending machine, is led by Bryan and fellow student Makaela Bournazian.

There has been pushback, however.

“People of religion have complained, as it would have Plan B and go against beliefs,” Bournazian said. “Other than that, everyone I have told about it (parents, actual adults, and college students) love the idea.”

There are also those who believe the machine is completely unnecessary and encourages students to have sex. Bryan argues to the contrary on both fronts.

“I don’t believe this vending machine is going to make people have more sex,” he said with a laugh. “It shouldn’t really be controversial, just because it’s something that Boise State already offers. It’s just in a more accessible way.”

The proposal cites a study from 2015 by the University of Minnesota that detailed alarming statistics. With 63 percent of all college students reporting to have been sexually active in the last year, only 52.5 percent report the consistent use of condoms. About 15.7 percent of female students reported using an emergency contraceptive, according to the proposal. Nearly one-in-three female students reports experiencing a sexual assault, the study said.

The Health and Wellness vending machine provides a solution so students wouldn’t have to make a choice, the proposal said. The machine, which would be located on the second floor of the Student Union near the Simplot Grand Ballroom, would be in a secluded corner to offer privacy. The machine would possibly carry contraceptives, tampons, the emergency contraceptive Plan B and pregnancy tests, in addition to less controversial items like lip balm, ibuprofen and nasal decongestant.

The machine itself costs about $4,000, Bryan said. Proposals are being written to the student government and Boise State’s Legal Services to fund the project. Though the details and final approval are all pending, if all goes according to plan, the machine will be ready to go in the next few months, Bryan said.

Adding the vending machine would add a handful of more hours of coverage per week for students to get supplies compared to normal University Health Services hours. University Health Services closes at 5 p.m. on weekdays and is not open on weekends.

After talking with victims of sexual assault, Bryan said the vending machine made a lot of sense.

“To know that survivors of sexual assault wound definitely need resources like this ... I went and talked to a couple of survivors,” Bryan said. “(And) they said what resources they would need right after.”

While the push for the machines is completely student-driven, Bryan and Bournazian have the support of the University Health and Wellness Center.

“It's a good idea because it will give students access to items on campus that they can't get when Health Services is closed,” said Michelle Ihmels, Boise State’s director of wellness. “But all the items they claim they will be stocking are things that can be bought at a local pharmacy/drug store/grocery store. It will just be more convenient to have on campus.”

Michael Katz: 208-377-6444, @MichaelLKatz

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