Vagina Monologues’ banned at U of Portland

Administration at the University of Portland canceled a student performance of Eve Ensler’s “Vagina Monologues” last week. The play, which was being performed as part of the nationwide “V-Day” movement, was found to be “offensive” by University President David Tyson. Administrators made the decision to ban the show from campus the day before the dress rehearsal was scheduled to take place.

Having gotten permission to hold the performance on campus last November, students and faculty members involved with the production were greatly surprised by the announcement.

“We went to the activities department in October and said, ‘We want to do this. What do we need to do?'” said Marcilla Lucero-Miner, student director of the “Vagina Monologues.”

Debate soon followed the request, and students, directors and administrators attended six weeks of meetings last fall to address concerns and questions that had been raised. Members of the UP feminist discussion group (the group requesting permission to perform the play) submitted a copy of the script and a mission statement to administrators explaining why they wanted to hold the performance on the Catholic university’s campus.

“Ensler’s sometimes graphic and disturbing descriptions of the reality of women’s lives provide a compelling antidote to the distorted images of women’s sexuality to which students are exposed on their televisions, in ubiquitous sexist advertising, and in the hundreds of pornographic images that are downloaded in the residence halls every day,” the statement read. “Many students will also gain an awareness of the nature and magnitude of the problem of violence against women that will challenge their preconceived ideas on the subject.”

After much discussion, students were given permission to hold the performance on campus, as well as plan a week of events in conjunction with “V-Day,” a national movement aimed at spreading awareness of violence against women. Every year, performances of Ensler’s “Vagina Monologues” are staged around the country in February, with proceeds going to benefit women advocacy groups.

Rehearsals at UP started in January, where students “worked nonstop,” Lucero-Miner said. T-shirts and programs were ordered, and special events were planned for every day of the week leading up to “V-Day,” including lectures, a self-defense class, a candlelight vigil against women’s violence and discussions scheduled after each performance.

It wasn’t until Monday night of “V-Day” week that the adviser of student services read the script. Meetings were immediately scheduled with other administrators, and the decision to cancel the show was made.

Lucero-Miner said she didn’t know what was going on when she was pulled out of class on Tuesday, but was soon led to an office and told by staff members that the production was banned from campus.

Later that day, Tyson issued a short statement that was sent via e-mail to everyone in the UP community.

“I have just read the ‘Vagina Monologues’ carefully and thoroughly,” the e-mail read. “In conscience, I cannot approve of its performance on the campus. The play is offensive, questionable in its portrayal of violence, and not in keeping with the respect accorded the human body in this institution’s religious tradition. I feel badly for those who have worked on the play, and appreciate and respect their opinion. However, it is my judgment that the University of Portland is not a proper venue for the ‘Vagina Monologues.'”

“Everyone was crestfallen for a few hours,” said Jeff Gauthier, faculty adviser of the feminist discussion group. “But students started looking for alternative places, and we found out that we could hold the show at Roosevelt High School.”

Play organizers quickly made arrangements to change the events scheduled for “V-Day” week. A panel was organized for a forum discussion to be held on Thursday night, and students attempted to spread awareness surrounding the new location of the show.

“It all worked out,” Lucero-Miner said. “Which makes me believe that it was supposed to happen.”

Gauthier explained that students and faculty members were more upset by administration’s choice of timing than their decision to cancel the play.

“If they were going to cancel the show, they should have done it in the fall,” he said. “I would have argued, but I wouldn’t have been as angry.”

Lucero-Miner explained that opposition to the performance may have been fueled in part by the “Vagina Monologue strike” being orchestrated by the Cardinal Newman Society, an organization that calls itself “the only national organization dedicated to the renewal of Catholic identity in Catholic higher education in the United States.”

The strike was a nationwide effort to encourage Catholic universities to ban the play from their campuses. The Cardinal Newman Society Web site had the names of every Catholic university participating in “V-day,” as well as the name, phone number and e-mail address of each university president.

Visitors to the site were encouraged to call, write letters and e-mails to participating universities, and demand that the plays be canceled. A pre-written letter was available for download, and the site asked members of the society to simply “sign and send.”

Many members of the Catholic community feel that the “Vagina Monologues” goes against what Catholic universities stand for, and that material in the play violates Ex corde Ecclesiae, the constitution that provides guidelines for colleges and universities carrying the label “Catholic.” The constitution calls for Catholic colleges to “inform and carry out its research, teaching, and all other activities with Catholic ideals, principles and attitudes.”

However, despite support of the university’s decision from those who oppose the play, many students didn’t agree with the comments made by UP administrators.

“To say it’s obscene is to miss the point at the heart of the play,” Lucero-Miner said. “It’s a healing experience for many women. To question any experience of violence is to demean it. You’re saying to the victim, we’re not sure if we’re going to believe you.”

Gauthier described the show at Roosevelt as a success. The performance raised over $2,000 to benefit the Portland Women’s Crisis Line and Clackamas Women’s Services, and students were pleased with the quality of the performance.

“It went very well, I think partly because of the pent-up anger and anxiety from the last week,” Gauthier said. “It all really came out in the show.”