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IN FOCUS: Saint Mary’s performs alternate to ‘Vagina Monologues’

Kelly Meehan | Thursday, April 6, 2006

Members of the Notre Dame community with questions about “Loyal Daughters” – a student-written play that could be produced this fall, University President Father John Jenkins’ said Wednesday- can see how a similar production has played out across the street.

In his closing statement on academic freedom and Catholic character, Jenkins said leaders of “The Vagina Monologues” had proposed turning their own unique experiences into a production targeting issues of violence against women – an idea Saint Mary’s has embraced for the past two years.

The SMC Monologues attempt to increase campus-wide awareness of sensitive issues like rape and violence against women.

While College administrators has never formally prohibited “The Vagina Monologues,” many students have said the SMC Monologues are better suited to promote awareness of pressing campus and national issues.

The SMC Monologues – produced by Campus Alliance for Rape Elimination (CARE) and Feminists United and Straight and Gay Alliance (SAGA) – is a play comprised of monologues written and submitted by students, faculty, staff and sisters that are then performed by a member of the College community during three weekend performances in February.

“We are now at a new phase in our speaking out,” senior SMC Monologues performer Stephanie Snyder said. “Those participating in the play are as transformed – if not more so – than those watching the play. When you have a play written, performed and attended for and by a community with a focus on that community, powerful and positive change can occur.”

Jenkins said Wednesday a faculty advised student-composed production like “Loyal Daughters” would help to “eliminate violence against women” – a statement supported by CARE faculty advisor and College psychology professor Catherine Pittman.

Pittman said a student-written play at Notre Dame would serve to address “the continued problem of sexual assaults on [both] campuses, the conflicts raised in Catholic women’s experience of women’s sexuality and the diversity of sexual experience that is often not respected, or even recognized, on campus.” 

Snyder said the SMC Monologues are one of the first personally written performances modeled after “The Vagina Monologues” and said they currently serve as a national model for such productions.

Snyder, who was generally pleased with Jenkins’ statement, said she would not be surprised if Notre Dame adapted the format of the SMC Monologues in a performance of “Loyal Daughters.”

“I would hope that we could eventually form a third joint play that highlights the interactions among women in our college community,” she said. “Such a step would be enlightening, healing and empowering for women at Notre Dame, Saint Mary’s and Holy Cross College. I think it is long past time for such an event.”

The personal monologue model has proved so successful for the College that CARE student officers, along with Pittman, have presented their experience of creating the SMC Monologues at two national conferences and will do so again this month at a Women’s Studies workshop on developing campus-focused monologues in Wisconsin.

“We would like to encourage not only Notre Dame, but campuses across the country, to speak out on issues related to women’s sexuality through the venue of self-produced monologues,” Pittman said.

Snyder said while she believes a production of “Loyal Daughters” could raise campus-wide awareness of important issues, she fears “not enough is being done to keep the women of Notre Dame or the women of Saint Mary’s safe from sexual assault.”

Warnings sent to women warning them to protect themselves from sexual assault and rape are not sufficient in fixing the problem, she said.

The next step, she said, is addressing assault issues with both men and women at Notre Dame’s freshmen orientation.

“I hope that the women [of Notre Dame] follow in Eve Ensler’s footprints to openly and honestly convey the truth of their lives,” Snyder said. “Speaking out against institutionalized oppression is never easy. It takes a lot of faith in one’s self, in God [and] in the community at large.”