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Monologues’ open in new academic setting

Heather VanHoegarden | Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Amidst ongoing debate about whether academic freedom should permit University departments to sponsor events deemed to conflict with Catholic values, Notre Dame students performed “The Vagina Monologues” for a nearly full auditorium of students, faculty and administrators Monday night, touching on themes from sexual awakenings to female genital mutilation.

This year’s play – sponsored by the English and sociology departments and set to continue tonight and Wednesday – was performed in 101 DeBartolo Hall instead of the DeBartolo Center for the Performing Arts after University President Father John Jenkins required that it take place in an academic setting. Jenkins’ compromise for this year’s event – he has not yet issued a formal long-term policy affecting future performances – also meant organizers could not charge admission to the “Monologues” to raise money as they had in previous years.

“It makes it a little less slick [having it in a classroom],” said Glenn Hendler, director of undergraduate studies and associate professor in the English department. “I think there are, in some ways, some good things about that. There’s kind of a rawness and everydayness about it that I don’t think other shows have.

“… [But] you’re talking about not having the legitimacy that the theatre has. You’re talking about not being able to raise money for the charities that are losing $15,000 they were expecting to get – that’s not good. There’s nothing good about that.”

The audience, more female than male, was enthusiastic and participative, singing along with songs played between individual monologues, laughing at appropriate times and even yelling an expletive term for vagina when prompted by a monologue.

Dean of the College of Arts and Letters Mark Roche was in attendance Monday, and he said it was his first time seeing “The Vagina Monologues.” He also said he attended the play on his own accord – not at Jenkins’ request – but declined to comment on his personal reactions to the event.

Discussions with Roche helped initiate a departmental vote to decide whether the English department would sponsor “The Vagina Monologues” again this year, Hendler told The Observer for a Jan. 26 article. The vote to sponsor the play was unanimous among the 30 professors who attended the meeting, out of a department of about 40 people, Hendler said.

Junior Madison Liddy, this year’s director of “The Vagina Monologues” – who delivered an impassioned moaning performance of her own as one of the play’s final acts Monday – said she was pleased with the turnout on the first night and reinforced the importance of having the play on campus.

“I think we are a determined bunch of girls and we’re dedicated [to the cause],” Liddy said. “If that means we have to get creative in our ways, we will. No one is scared – we are vagina warriors.”

Senior Lauren Williams, who attended Monday’s showing and also saw “The Vagina Monologues” as a freshman, said she thinks the play brings important perspectives to campus.

“The controversy made me want to support it more, having seen it and realizing that I support the cause,” Williams said. “Yes, absolutely [it belongs at Notre Dame].”

Jackie Smith, a professor of sociology and peace studies who also served on the discussion panel following the play, said that after conducting much research on violence against women and seeing the performance for the first time, she thinks “The Vagina Monologues” needs to be performed at the University.

“I think it should be here, it needs to be here,” Smith said after the performance and before the panel. “I think the Church needs to be much more open to hearing the voices of women, and the fact that they’re giving us such a hard time about performing is exactly the message that this play is about. And by denying space for this kind of performance on campus, we’re really not doing our duty as a University to provide students with lots of different perspectives on the world and on experiences of people, [and] we’re also contributing to the continued silence and oppression that comes from that.”

Freshman Chris Hall, who saw the play for the first time, said he enjoyed the performance and identified some academic aspects.

“I thought it was a really good show,” Hall said. “There were a lot of interesting points, different perspectives. I guess you could say it was educational.”

Freshman Jessica Keppel said her first experience at “The Vagina Monologues” was a positive one, although she was at times taken aback by its frankness.

“I thought it was really awesome,” Keppel said. “I definitely wanted to go see it; I had heard all over about the whole academic freedom thing. And violence against women is an issue really close to my heart. At first it shocked me at how frank they are, especially [the monologue entitled “Reclaiming (expletive)”]. That was just really frank and out there for me.”

Notre Dame Right to Life, which has demonstrated against the play in the past, decided not to protest Monday’s event, saying the group instead would pray for those involved in the play.

“We will continue to pray that those involved will realize that the play is an explicit, sexually provocative and inappropriate means of making a point about ending violence against women,” club president Arina Grossu told The Observer in an e-mail.

“The Vagina Monologues” will take place again tonight and Wednesday at 7 p.m. in 101 and 102 DeBartolo Hall, respectively, followed by a panel discussion at 9:15 p.m.

Maddie Hanna contributed to this report.