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IN FOCUS: ‘Vagina Monologues’ organizers focus on future plans

Karen Langley | Thursday, April 6, 2006

“The Vagina Monologues” may be here to stay – unless Notre Dame’s own “Loyal Daughters” replaces it.

Student organizers of past “Monologues” productions at Notre Dame reacted enthusiastically to the release of University President Father John Jenkins’ closing statement on academic freedom Wednesday.

Jenkins said “The Vagina Monologues” may continue on campus as an academic event, but organizers said their own decision to further produce the “Monologues” will depend upon the November debut of “Loyal Daughters,” a yet-to-be-written, Notre Dame-specific play that they hope will strike a personal note with audiences.

“There are complaints that ‘The Vagina Monologues’ are divisive because of the political aspect,” said Emily Weisbecker, an organizer of the 2006 “Monologues” who is researching and writing “Loyal Daughters.” “I want to bring the stories of actual Notre Dame students and bring it closer to home.”

Weisbecker said she and past “Monologues” organizer Kaitlyn Redfield told Father Jenkins about their idea for Loyal Daughters at a meeting immediately before his Jan. 23 address to the faculty on academic freedom and Catholic character.

“I think it was courageous of him to meet with us,” Redfield said. “He was obviously truthful in his request for dialogue.”

Jenkins was enthusiastic about the idea, Weisbecker said, but he made it clear that a performance of “Loyal Daughters” would be treated as an academic event and could not be used to raise funds.

“That’s the only thing we disagree with,” Redfield said.

Redfield said past “Monologues” organizers have tentatively planned a fundraiser gala to replace the $15,000 that the production traditionally raised annually for local women’s charities.

Weisbecker began the project this fall and has completed 20 of 50 planned interviews with male and female students and a few faculty members. Her research – funded by a UROP grant – is focused on women’s experiences at Notre Dame, including sexuality and sexual assault but also related issues like alcohol and mental health.

“I believe very strongly that when you come across difficult issues, it is important to encourage more discussion instead of backing away,” Weisbecker said. “It’s obvious ‘The Vagina Monologues’ does not communicate with everyone. I think it is important to come across from different directions.”

The play’s form will depend in part on the material gathered in the interviews, Weisbecker said. After the November performance of “Loyal Daughters,” its organizers will decide whether their message about women’s sexuality and sexual assault has been delivered or if a production of “The Vagina Monologues” is needed.

Jenkins did not specify to Weisbecker or the other organizers how frequently “The Vagina Monologues” could be performed on campus, she said.

Under the guidelines outlined in his statement, Jenkins said students interested in performing “The Vagina Monologues” would have to make a presentation to an academic department.

“Those who are interested in putting on ‘Loyal Daughters’ are interested in working on that, and that’s what we’ve talked about,” he told The Observer Wednesday. “But we haven’t considered any proposal about ‘The Vagina Monologues.'”

For now, the organizers are totally committed to the development and production of “Loyal Daughters,” said Madison Liddy, this year’s director of “The Vagina Monologues.”

“We are going to put all our efforts into ‘Loyal Daughters,’ so I really hope it succeeds,” she said. “That’s my goal for now.”

Weisbecker and Liddy will both serve on the ad hoc committee Jenkins has convened to address gender relations and violence against women.

Both her work with the “Monologues” and her personal experience have prepared Weisbecker to undertake the research and writing of “Loyal Daughters.”

“I’m very passionate about this issue and I have a commitment to making things happen,” she said. “I was sexually assaulted on campus as a freshman [and] it gives me a whole different perspective to approach this from.”

Her interviews for “Loyal Daughters” have shown her that people sometimes deny sexual assault when it occurs, she said, which points to one of the play’s goals – awareness.

“People have to know [sexual assault] is not okay, and they have a right to turn that person is,” she said.

Notre Dame Security/Police (NDSP) engages in a victim-driven process to provide resources and support in cases of sexual assault, NDSP director Phil Johnson said Wednesday.

“It is our hope that victims of sexual assault will stand together and report the crime so we can address this important matter,” Johnson said. “But we respect at any point a victim’s decision not to go forth.”

After three years of organizing “The Vagina Monologues,” Redfield praised the language in Jenkins’ statement, which she said “acknowledge[s] Catholicism isn’t going to be threatened” by controversial performances like “The Vagina Monologues.”

“It creates a much better atmosphere both for women and campus and for people who disagree with parts of Catholicism but have reasonable opinions and goals, to allow those people to express themselves at this University,” she said.