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Guidelines differ for academic, dorm events

Karen Langley | Tuesday, February 7, 2006

Like “The Vagina Monologues” and the former Queer Film Festival – focal points of University President Father John Jenkins’ recent addresses on academic freedom and Catholic character – the Keenan Revue and Dillon Pep Rally are annual student-coordinated events with reputations for generating controversy.

But unlike the two productions at the center of the current campus debate, the Revue and Pep Rally are dorm-sponsored events and thus will not be impacted by any decisions stemming from Jenkins’ addresses, University spokesman Dennis Brown said Monday.

“His addresses were specific to academic freedom,” Brown said. “Residence halls would not fall under the umbrella since they are sponsored by non-academic units.”

This distinction between academic and non-academic units frames the administration’s treatment of residence halls and academic departments. Residence halls fall under the auspices of Student Activities, while academic departments fall under the authority of the Provost’s Office.

“The bottom line is when it comes to events hosted by residence halls and events hosted by academic units, it’s apples and oranges,” Brown said.

While residence halls are not comparable to academic departments in terms of guidelines for sponsored events requiring adherence to Catholic teaching, dorm events must still follow guidelines of propriety. Hall rectors work closely with the Office of Student Affairs in preparation for various hall events, Brown said.

“With things like the Keenan Revue, the rector reads through the script for the Revue, and oftentimes, changes are made,” he said. “It’s all part of having various events be consistent with the ideals and values of the University.”

The Revue, which last year included jokes about homosexual rape, disfigured babies and ethnic stereotypes, has been an annual source of campus contention.

Keenan Hall rector Father Mark Thesing, Revue producer Thomas Flowers and Revue director James Gower were unavailable for comment Monday.

The Revue has been held on the Saint Mary’s campus for decades, so Saint Mary’s student leaders are the only non-Keenan students with input during the skit selection process.

Saint Mary’s student body vice president Susan McIlduff said she and student body president Kellye Mitros were contacted by Gower and Flowers to arrange a review committee. This allows the Saint Mary’s student body president, vice president and president-elect – this year, McIlduff – to preview the Revue and make suggestions about offensive material.

“We know it’s just for fun,” she said “However, if [a skit] seems to be very hurtful or controversial, we would definitely suggest they not perform it.”

McIlduff and Mitros plan to judge the skits on the case-by-case basis, asking that skits be removed only when they might truly offend a member of the academic community.

“Our main concern is Saint Mary’s students,” she said. “However, since it is taking place on our campus, it’s our responsibility to make sure other dorms at Notre Dame and Holy Cross are represented in a fair manner.”

The Revue has sparked substantial debate during the past few years in student publications.

In a 2001 letter-to-the-editor to The Observer, then-Saint Mary’s senior Carolyn Kelley said she felt the Revue’s presence on campus was indicative of chauvinism.

“It’s a shame that we internalize such repressive ‘traditions’ to the degree that it is acceptable for men to talk about and make fun of women’s sexuality, but it is considered ‘shocking’ (to quote a Saint Mary’s student) for women to talk about their own,” she wrote.

Female students have not been the only ones to criticize a permissive attitude toward jokes with serious subject matter.

In 2002, then-junior Seamus Rohn wrote a letter to The Observer questioning the Notre Dame student body’s support of Revue material.

“Many of the jokes in the Revue, like many of the jokes we hear and tell everyday, were predicated on racial, religious, sexist or homophobic myths,” he wrote. “I worry that these jokes suggest we are not nearly as serious as we claim about ending prejudice and discrimination along those lines.”

Rohn saw a problematic gap between a student group’s comic presentations and the University’s professed ideals – a disparity between actions and philosophies similar to the one Jenkins recently has addressed.

“There is a major conflict between the loving and accepting community we claim to be and the jokes we tell in close company [or at the Revue],” Rohn wrote.

The Dillon Pep Rally, held before each season’s first home football game, is not as widely controversial but still draws campus attention for occasional offensive jokes.

Dillon rector Father Paul Doyle said he tells Dillon residents they must keep the show’s content respectful before they begin to plan the Pep Rally.

“I put responsibility on students,” he said. “If they screw up, we deal with it.”

In the past, Doyle said Dillon students who have acted inappropriately in the Pep Rally have been forced to call home or visit the Office of Residence Life and Housing as punishment.

“I think humor at other people’s expense is cheap and should be avoided,” Doyle said. “I don’t know if there’s Catholic teaching that says, ‘Don’t make fun of fat girls,’ but I don’t think it’s right. When you belittle people, it’s one more drop of acid at the problem that eats away.”

Doyle said offensive material has no place at a Catholic university, even in the Pep Rally’s comedic context.

“We cannot have humor at other people’s expense,” he said. “We are trying to build a Christian community, not tear people down.”

Dan Carter, head writer and director for the Dillon Pep Rally for the past two years, said while responsibility for screening material for the event fell mostly on him and several other writers, the process also involved the dorm presidents and assistant rectors.

Carter said he thought clear acts of satire, such as the Pep Rally, are often taken too seriously.

“‘The Vagina Monologues’ and the Queer Film Festival offend those who are overly

conservative and traditionally religious,” he said. “The Dillon Pep Rally offends those

who are overly liberal and politically correct. While these groups don’t seem to have a lot in common, they both only see in black and white. They need to open their minds, stop taking everything so seriously, and accept ‘The Vagina Monologues’ as a work of art and the Dillon Pep Rally as a work of satire. If they have a problem with either of them, they should just stay home and do serious things, like taxes.”

Noting the difference between University attitudes towards ‘The Vagina Monologues’ and towards similarly explicit material addressed publicly by males, Carter said female students at Notre Dame are held to a stricter standard than their male counterparts.

“Males get away with so much more on this campus,” he said. “Do you think dorms with females could streak through [the] library?”