September 2, 2022 | OPINION | By Emma Logan
Over the last 52 years, every generation of Colorado College students has quickly adapted to the dominance of a 28 day measure of time: the block. Each month we completely revise our routines and are forced to revisit the habits that allow us to live, work, and love in this unique education system. However, while 100% of the student body functions on this 28 day cycle, roughly half of us have another 28 day cycle in addition to the block: a menstrual cycle. During the Fall of 2021, 55% of students on campus identified as female, with 1.3% identifying as non-binary and 0.5% as transgender. So, what does life on the Block Plan look like for the roughly 1,300 students with uteruses at CC?
The human menstrual cycle can have far-reaching effects on both the physical and mental health of an individual, and this fluctuates depending on the time of month. For example, the first 14 days of the menstrual cycle is considered the follicular phase. During these two weeks, people with periods experience heightened anxiety but also more spatial awareness and agility due to a spike in estrogen. Menstruation (defined as active bleeding) usually lasts the first four to seven days, and those with consistent cycles get their periods at the same time in consecutive blocks every month. After menstruation, or during days 10-12 of the menstrual cycle, the hippocampus, the part of the brain that impacts memory, literally increases in physical size. This results in better imagination, more vivid or creative dreams, as well as increased memory and social abilities.
The second half of the menstrual cycle, from days 14-28, is considered the luteal phase and is signified by a slight decrease in estrogen and increase in progesterone. It is initially marked by ovulation, when the ovaries release an egg for fertilization, resulting in an increased sexual desire. At this point, the amygdala, which is the part of the brain that helps to process emotions, is also impacted. This results in a heightened ability to recognize fear in others and perceive more subtle body language. Finally, the last week of the menstrual cycle, the time following ovulation, is categorized as roughly days 21-28 and is considered ‘pre-menstrual,’ which can result in difficulty concentrating, insomnia, and rapid changes in mood.
Obviously, disruptions in the school calendar such as summer vacation or spring break can change where in the block one’s menstrual cycle may line up, but for half our students, experiencing these fluctuations in physical and mental health are a very real part of life at CC. For example, some of us may experience starting our cycle at the start of the block, resulting in a period week one, increased cognitive ability week two, a strong sex drive at the start of week three, and pre-menstrual physical drain every fourth-week and Block Break. However, there may also be times where one’s cycle begins week three, increased cognitive ability and imagination week four, ovulation week one, and Premenstral syndrome week two.
This natural cycle may pose benefits to some students, including the increased ability to empathize and communicate with peers during certain times of the block when finals and presentations could be a crucial part of one’s final grade. Ovulation during week four and during Block Breaks may also increase energy and sexual desire, which could assist you during finals and into your little vacation. However, this can come at the price of fatigue, difficulty concentrating, and tiredness other times in the block. If your pre-menstrual cycle lines up with fourth week three blocks in a row, you may face an unfair disadvantage that your non-menstruating peers don’t need to navigate.
While people with uteruses are exceptionally resilient humans and consistently work through these changes to be themselves and do their best at any point in the month, it does take intentional work. Asking half the student population to function on these multifaceted cycles likely results in some mental strain if not academic consequence.
Within the last year, the school’s administration has reacted to the student body’s call for increased mental health support and services with a want to reassess the Block Plan, a pursuit I believe to be an inadequate and inert response. Rather than using this information to call for dismantling the system that makes our institution unique, allowing more cultural space in classrooms to have conversations with professors and amongst students about this interesting connection between block and menstrual cycle is what should be emphasized.
Talk about your period. Talk about the Block Plan. And talk about your period on the Block Plan. I get mine every third week.