As early as next year, Boise State University students might find a new vending machine on the second floor of the Student Union Building. The new machine would dispense condoms, pregnancy tests, Plan B medication and a number of other health products. If approved, Boise State would join a select number of American universities that already offer the new vending machines.
Students at Boise State will have economics major Haydn Bryan to thank if the machine becomes a reality. The junior, who has been working on the proposal for nearly nine months, said he got the idea after watching a video on Snapchat about the "Wellness-to-Go" vending machine at the University of California, Davis, the brainchild of Parteek Singh, who was student body president at UC Davis in 2015.
Earlier this year, Bryan asked Singh for guidance on getting something similar for Boise State. Bryan said Singh helped him create the proposal he formally presented to the Boise State University Health Services department—Bryan is among students from more than 30 schools "interested in learning how to do the same thing on their campuses," according to a September 2017 New York Times article.
Bryan saw the initial need for a health and wellness vending machine two years ago, he said, due to the number of students in immediate need of health products but unable to get them quickly due to a lack of accessibility.
"I understand that student needs are diverse and variable, and that accessibility and privacy will only serve to create a healthier and more empowered student body," Bryan wrote in an email. "Facilitating the purchase of healthcare items allows students to manage their own healthcare needs in an efficient and economical manner. I have a personal passion for this project because I know multiple individuals that needed a program like this, and they didn't have anywhere to turn to."
The vending machine in the Boise State SUB would sit in a discreet corner where users would be afforded some privacy. The available items could be everything from acetaminophen (Tylenol) and allergy medicine, to pregnancy tests, contraceptives, personal lubricants and Plan B, as well as other health items unavailable on campus during late-night hours.
According to Bryan's proposal, the location of the machine would also provide much needed "accessibility ... to on-campus, affordable, over-the-counter health care products," and the cost of keeping the machine filled could also be reduced, since the university has buying power to purchase large quantities.
University Health Services provides many of the health and wellness items that would be available in the vending machine, but its hours are limited: It's only open 8 a.m.-5 p.m. weekdays and closed on weekends. The SUB, however, is open 6 a.m.-midnight daily, adding approximately 70 additional hours per week in which students would have access to items they need at night or on weekends. The new vending machine would also be a resource for students who can't go off-campus to get health and wellness products.
Bryan said all of the feedback he has received so far has been positive, and he hopes to see the vending machine on campus by the end of the spring 2018 semester. So far, he has received support from University Health Services, operators of the SUB and the Boise State University Bookstore, which would help keep the vending machine stocked. The estimated one-time cost of the machine is $4,300, which includes customized vinyl wrapping.
But the most crucial step is still to come: Bryan said he'll soon make his presentation to the Associated Students of Boise State University, the student government body (of which he is chief of staff). The vending machine may not be installed without ASBSU endorsement and funding.
"I'm excited to see where this project goes, and I'm happy it is nearing completion," Bryan wrote.
University Health Services Director of Wellness Michelle Ihmels said the vending machine may not lessen the in-person visits to the campus health services center in the Norco Building, but it could reduce the number of visits to local grocery stores or pharmacies for the items.
"The vending machines will positively impact the students by providing them with more access to over-the-counter items that they might need, especially during hours when Health Services is closed, and it will allow students to not have to leave campus to get these items," said Ihmels. "It can also help reduce stigma or embarrassment by providing some of these items in a self-service, confidential manner."
Meanwhile, in California, Singh has since graduated. He said students from all over the country are expressing interest in getting wellness vending machines on their campuses, and he's working on what he calls a "universal planning guide" to help students create their own proposals.
"Every college campus should have this resource," Singh told Boise Weekly. "It's a way to destigmatize [the products], as well as provide privacy so students feel comfortable getting and using them."