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Monologues’ have been banned at SMC since 2001

| Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Academic freedom in the forms of “The Vagina Monologues” and the Queer Film Festival has incited campus-wide debate after University President Father John Jenkins questioned the appropriateness of their existence at a Catholic institution in recent addresses.

While the debate of what is and is not appropriate material rages on at Notre Dame, Saint Mary’s College has already taken action against performances of “The Vagina Monologues,” a play that includes issues that traditionally contradict Catholic teaching, such as masturbation, homosexuality and premarital sex.

The play has been banned from the Saint Mary’s campus since Jan. 2001. The monologues were performed for the first and only college-sanctioned time at Saint Mary’s in the spring of 2000, and it sold out for both nights of its performance in Carroll Auditorium.

After the performance, then-College President Marilou Eldred received a flood of disapproving letters and phone calls to the administration. The alumnae, Board of Trustees and Parents Council were distraught after reading a letter by former College professor E. Michael Jones that the show went against Church teaching. This outcry led to Eldred’s announcement of the administration’s decision to cancel performances of “The Vagina Monologues” on campus.

According to an article in the South Bend Tribune last week, the college scheduled other activities to encourage discussion of sexuality and violence against women.

In a Jan. 25, 2001 Observer article, Vice President of Student Affairs Linda Timm said Eldred believed “there are other ways dialogue can be continued to raise awareness about rape and address issues of sexuality.”

Some students were outraged by this decision and felt that the reasoning behind “The Vagina Monologues” cancellation was to appease alumnae, parents and the Board of Trustees. Debate erupted across campus in 2001 as some students felt the administration was too concerned with the opinions of those outside of the immediate College community. Students’ anger was evidenced in the creation of a petition that was passed around campus and also by a sit-in staged outside Eldred’s office.

On Feb. 19, 2001, despite the College refusing to allow an official performance of “The Vagina Monologues,” fifteen women from the Notre Dame and Saint Mary’s community held an “underground” reading of the monologues in the Regina Hall lounge. Over 150 people attended.

About one month after the unsanctioned performance, Eldred ordered three seniors to apologize or face disciplinary action for participating in the play. According to the article in the South Bend Tribune, the seniors refused and instead submitted a written defense of their actions and explained why they felt the need to participate.

This spurred a campus debate on academic freedom, and students involved in the Campus Alliance for Rape Elimination (CARE) continued to hold readings of “The Vagina Monologues” in the Regina North Lounge without college approval through 2004. The college had no response to these performances.

In a March 5, 2004 Observer article, Saint Mary’s spokesperson Melanie McDonald said the College did not oppose the right of small groups to gather without official College endorsement for the reading of plays such as “The Vagina Monologues.”

While “The Vagina Monologues” remain banned as a publicly sponsored performance on campus, the administration has allowed and approved the performance of “The SMC Monologues.”

Created by the president of CARE Ginger Francis and CARE’s faculty advisor, associate professor of psychology, Catherine Pittman, “The SMC Monologues” were first performed in 2005.

Francis and Pittman wanted to address the issues presented in The Vagina Monologues in a way that was tailored specifically to the women of the Saint Mary’s community, Pittman said.

“‘The SMC Monologues’ is a story about us. It is an all-inclusive production created by us and for us,” said Francis. “Women in the SMC community – students, faculty, staff and the Sisters of the Holy Cross – have written their own pieces about their experiences as women, experiences of sexual violence and experiences surrounding sexuality.”

“It’s a safe forum for women to reclaim their voices and have them be heard,” she said.

College officials did not comment on why “The SMC Monologues” are considered acceptable while “The Vagina Monologues” remain banned.

Last year CARE raised over $600 for SOS, the rape crisis center for St. Joseph County, through donations collected at “The SMC Monologues.”

There will be no admission charge for the event again this year, which will be performed Saturday, Feb. 18 at 7 p.m. and Sunday, Feb. 19 at 2p.m. in Carroll Auditorium. A minimum donation of $3 at the door is being suggested, and all proceeds will benefit SOS.