The Independent Student Newspaper of St. John's University

The Torch

The Independent Student Newspaper of St. John's University

The Torch

The Independent Student Newspaper of St. John's University

The Torch

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Would you want St. John’s University to host the Vagina Monologues?

When senior Alisha Brizicky first saw “The Vagina Monologues,” she was hooked. The groundbreaking play, which deals with issues and concepts that are rarely discussed, in an effort to combat violence against women, had left a lasting impression on her, and soon she had a goal: bring “The Vagina Monologues” to St. John’s.

“The Vagina Monologues,” a play written by Eve Ensler, features several female characters who address the audience, relating the stories, memories and feelings that they associate with their genitalia. After debuting, the play soon skyrocketed to widespread critical acclaim and fame. Ensler, who originally played all of the women in the show, was soon replaced by three celebrity actors who each played various roles. Over the years, famous actresses such as Whoopi Goldberg, Julia Stiles and Michelle Rodriguez have participated in the project, and productions have been staged around the country and the world, often on college campuses.

The idea seemed simple enough at first; there are many events for causes like this one every month at St. John’s, and it seemed that there would be no shortage of students and faculty happy to support such a worthy cause. She soon realized, however, that things would not be so simple. When University administrators became involved, they made it clear that they would not support the production.

The play is most often associated with the organization V-Day, which was founded by Ensler and is described on its Web site as “a global movement to stop violence against women and girls.” According to the Web site, more than 2,700 V-Day benefit events took place in 2006.

“I actually saw ‘The Vagina Monologues’ when it was first run as an off-Broadway production,” Brizicky said, adding that she has seen it several times since then. “I’ve been hoping to organize a production here for the past few years. I’ve been really envious of my friends who have really established and well-received V-Day programs at their schools.”

Brizicky said that her first attempts to bring “The Vagina Monologues” to St. John’s went through the Office of Student Life, which was “not at all receptive.” She later brought the idea to former Manhattan campus director Mike McCorvey.

“[McCorvey] was optimistic about our chances of being allowed to have a production on the Manhattan campus,” she said.
At that point, Brizicky said, Jose Rodriguez, associate vice president of Student Affairs, and Fr. James Maher, C.M., vice president of Student Affairs, became involved, meeting with Brizicky shortly before the end of the fall semester.

Maher described the meeting as “very respectful and cordial.” He did not, however, agree with Brizicky on the issue of the play.

“The play itself really tries to focus on the value of awareness, creating awareness around violence against women and opposing that, and we all support that value,” Maher said. “Our position has been that by the very nature of the play, we’re not able to do that… specifically, people are divided on the play.”
He explained that although the basic principle of the play adheres to the mission of the University, he believes that the play has a divisive nature that does not allow that principle to be expressed effectively.

“It really gets us divided on an issue that we have to be fundamentally unified on,” Maher said.

Rodriguez agreed, suggesting that the message of “The Vagina Monologues” could be better served through other projects, specifically those taking place as part of “women’s awareness month.”

“I’d like to ask… is it possible to bring up awareness of very important issues without running the risk of insulting others?” he said. “If that’s the case, then I think we should consider that.”

Rodriguez described Brizicky as a “fine young woman, who has a lot of compassion and passion for this,” but said that ultimately the University “[has] an obligation to the whole community.”

He added that he offered Brizicky a spot on the Women’s Awareness Month committee, a position that she declined.
“I said that I’d be too busy with ‘The Vagina Monologues,'” Brizicky explained.

Brizicky went on to contend that the content of the play should not be a problem, as she offered to leave out the most controversial scenes. Rodriguez responded that this would not make a difference in his decision “because of the nature and what is known of this program.”

Maher said that while the University does not have a specific policy for deciding what is or is not appropriate as a campus activity, there are certain “screens” that are used to filter out what might not be acceptable, such as how it engages students, whether it is educational and culturally sensitive, and whether it stands up to the University’s mission. He pointed out that while some activities may fit well at other universities, the case may be different for St. John’s.

When asked about past events that may have been seen as controversial but were allowed to take place, Maher said that every decision was made on a case-by-case basis.

“I think that when we’ve learned in any way, shape or form of any problems with programming in terms of how it might be offensive to [our] mission, we’ve dealt with it right away,” he said.

He explained that this might mean preparing for an event in a special way or, in the case of an unforeseen problem, dealing with them afterwards. He said that this was the case earlier this year when controversy arose from the Greek God and Goddess event.

“Things went on that weren’t planned and weren’t appropriate,” Maher said, “and it was dealt with right away both with the organization and the event itself.”

Brizicky may still be able to achieve her goal of seeing a production of the play at St. John’s. Precedent shows that if she can get the play backed by one of the departments within the University as an academic event, the University is legally obligated to allow it, as was the case with similar incidents at Fordham University and Carlow College in Pennsylvania.
“I’ve spoken to the department chairs of two different departments, both of whom seem very interested,” she said.

“However, as of yet I have no firm commitments.”

Brizicky has started a petition of St. John’s students who want to see “The Vagina Monologues” on campus, but she said that there is no doubt in her mind that there will be a production of the play available to the St. John’s community even if it is not on the campus.

“If the play doesn’t run as an academic event, it will be performed at a venue outside of the University in the surrounding neighborhood,” she said. “The V-Day organization has been fantastically supportive of adapting this production to an unconventional venue.”

Some students have also begun to speak out in support of Brizicky’s cause. In a letter addressed to the department of Student Affairs, English Honor Society president and women’s studies minor Ailia Rizvi stated, “St. John’s University must raise a voice and take a stand against violence against women, locally and globally. ‘The Vagina Monologues’ are a vehicle through which the University can take a humanitarian stand (Catholic), provide a great service (Vincentian), and raise awareness about current political and social concerns locally and globally (Metropolitan).”

“Not allowing the play because it’s divisive and polarizing is ridiculous,” Brizicky said. “Almost any issue that is meaningful and impactful is also divisive… what this seems to signal is that St. John’s is less concerned about the divisive nature of the play than about which side of the divide they come down on.”

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