Flames of the Torch

Mark Twain once wrote, “Nature knows no indecencies. Man invents them.” If this is true, then the administrators at St. John’s have taken it upon themselves to create indecency of great proportions.

In September, St. John’s senior Alisha Brizicky began the process of trying to bring “The Vagina Monologues” to the University. After initializing a campus-wide campaign, which consisted of fliers and petitions, Brizicky met with members of the University’s administration in an effort to bring the acclaimed production to St. John’s.

When Brizicky brought her proposal to the University, however, the importance of the production was overlooked and the potential controversy became the focus. Brizicky met first with Jose Rodriguez, the associate vice president of Student Affairs, in September; prior to the start of winter break, Brizicky met again with Rodriguez as well as Fr. James Maher, C.M., vice president of Student Affairs. Although the administrators described Brizicky as “compassionate and passionate,” they felt unable to support the production.

According to Maher, the problem is the overall nature of the show. “It really gets us divided on an issue that we have to be fundamentally unified on,” he said.

Even after Brizicky offered to leave out the most controversial scenes, Rodriguez stated that this would not affect his decision, saying that “because of the nature and what is known of this program…it doesn’t really take away from my concerns.”

Yet other controversial speakers and presentations have been brought to campus with much less effort. In October 2003, Cornel West spoke to a crowd of more than 1,000 members of the St. John’s community. West, a former Harvard professor and best-selling author whose primary focus is racial issues, is known for saying that “the profound hatred of African people [that] sits at the very core of American civilization.” Yet West was welcomed with open arms.

Later, in February 2005, Angela Davis, a member of the Black Panthers and the Communist Party, addressed students as part of Black History Month. Along with being an activist, Davis was also once on the FBI’s most-wanted list. Aside from the controversial use of metal detectors at the event, Davis, too, was warmly welcomed to campus.

If that is not enough, the Student Programming Board has begun advertising for its Spring 2007 film series. “Borat,” one of the most popular films of the season, is to be shown in February. Surely this film, a satirical view of American culture that insults and offends numerous groups, including women, is inappropriate and against the mission of the University. Why then is this the cultural phenomenon that has been chosen to be presented?

“The Vagina Monologues,” though controversial and divisive, is educational and, some may say, empowering to women. Yet the production is being rejected and instead films that demean the female population are being widely promoted.

Perhaps the most offensive attribute in this production lies in its rather loud title. Perhaps it’s the abundant references to the dreaded “V” word that proves most divisive. Regardless, it seems that precedent indicates that the University has no qualms over inviting speakers and sponsoring events with extremely divisive messages and reputations.
So why the exception?