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Loyal Daughters’ debuts at DPAC

Mary Kate Malone | Monday, November 13, 2006

A student-created production about sexuality and sexual assault at Notre Dame will open today with the clear intent, organizers said, of shaking the University community into awareness about sexual violence on campus.

“Loyal Daughters” will debut, however, without the endorsement of University President Father John Jenkins – a backing it lost after Jenkins viewed the script in early October and found that its occasionally “neutral stance” on premarital sex was “in direct opposition to the Church and Father Jenkins’ position on issues of sexual morality,” University spokesman Dennis Brown said Sunday.

Brown said, however, that Jenkins still “completely supports” the central aim of the play, “which is education and awareness to prevent sexual assault and sexual violence.”

Jenkins’ withdrawal of his endorsement comes seven months after he identified the student-written “Loyal Daughters” as one of the “substantive” results of an inflamed, two-month, campus-wide discussion on academic freedom and Catholic character.

That discussion began on Jan. 23, when Jenkins questioned the annual on-campus presence of “The Vagina Monologues” and other events “in name or content clearly and egregiously contrary to or inconsistent with the fundamental values of a Catholic university.”

On April 5, Jenkins issued a statement that said he would not prohibit future performances of the “Monologues,” but explained that he hoped to focus on two different initiatives to eliminate violence against women – “Loyal Daughters,” and the creation of an ad-hoc committee made up of faculty, students and administrators that would foster “a wide-ranging discussion of gender relations, roles, and ways to prevent violence against women.”

Senior writer Emily Weisbecker decided to let the committee, which Jenkins chairs and of which she is a member, read the script Oct. 2.

Jenkins’ last-minute decision to stop endorsing the production was an unexpected and worrisome turn of events for Weisbecker and senior director Madison Liddy.

“We understand that it’s a difficult decision for him, but at the same time, it was nerve-racking for us because we weren’t sure what ‘withdrawing endorsement’ meant in terms of financing and our ability to perform it on campus,” Liddy said.

Brown, however, declined to define “endorsement,” saying it was getting into “schematics.” The key, Brown said, is that Jenkins is allowing “Loyal Daughters” to continue and supports its purpose.

Jenkins’ decision to no longer endorse the production scratches the already-blurry line between sponsorship and endorsement at Notre Dame – a debate that reverberated through campus last spring as students and faculty grappled with the place of the “Monologues” on campus. Members of the Notre Dame community often clashed over whether sponsoring controversial events implied endorsing their content or message.

Without Jenkins’ endorsement, Liddy and Weisbecker said they fear that students who were originally opposed to “The Vagina Monologues” will probably not come to the production. Had it maintained Jenkins’ backing, perhaps they would have considered attending, Weisbecker said.

Though the production has close ties to the administration, Weisbecker said her “academic freedom was completely protected” and that her decision to share her script with Jenkins was her own choice. Also, the idea for “Loyal Daughters” was entirely her own, she said, and came about long before Jenkins raised questions about “The Vagina Monologues.”

Weisbecker said she knew Jenkins “had no editorial control” over the content of the play.