Lost in the controversy surrounding Ludacris in the last couple of weeks was a noteworthy event that, if publicized in Queens, would have undoubtedly offended some University community members: a March 23 “Borat” screening at the Manhattan campus.
This year, the administration has gotten its programming policies terribly wrong. The idea that Ludacris was being considered to headline this year’s Spring Weekend concert during the weeks that the University denied a showing of “The Vagina Monologues” is embarrassingly hypocritical on the part of administrators. The “Borat” showing, however, is just the kind of event this University needs more of, as the controversial film was followed by a discussion concerning its potentially offensive components.
There’s been a lot of language about divisiveness surrounding recent University-sponsored, potentially offensive events:”It really gets us divided on an issue we have to be fundamentally unified on,” said Father James Maher, vice president of Student Life, about “The Vagina Monologues” in January. “Not allowing the play because it’s divisive and polarizing is ridiculous,” replied Alisha Brizicky, the student that has headed efforts to bring the play to St. John’s, in January. “Almost any issue that is meaningful and impactful is also divisive.
The problem with avoiding potentially divisive events is that dialogue, the very foundation of education (something this University needs more of), is impossible without conflict. From a Catholic mission standpoint, the University has a duty to invite divisive issues and promote thought-out answers.
“The Vagina Monologues” introduces some valuable problems: questions concerning violence against women, sexuality and vulgarity have arisen by merely talking about the play. Ludacris is a problem, though a less pedagogical one: what role do controversial reputations and misogynistic lyrics play within a Catholic mission? “Borat” certainly introduces very serious problems concerning nationality, stereotypes, racism, and humor, among a slue of others.
As a Catholic university, there needs to be a stronger sense of responsibility in educating students on how to confront these problems. Taking an initiative on inviting potentially offensive programming onto campus will inject some needed vigor into the lifeblood of St. John’s.
This idea has not been lost on the University in years past-Gerry Adams, Angela Davis, Noel Ignatiev, and Cornel West have certainly divided this campus-so why the sudden shift?
As a Catholic institution, the University has a duty to provide students with a Catholic knowledge, a foundation for how to answer problems with Catholic answers. As a university, St. John’s is obligated to educate, and education is not possible if ideas are not introduced, challenged and debated.
I sympathize with University administrators when they show concern over these viable issues. Censorship, the route the University has taken in recent months, is far more problematic than its counterpart, though. Hosting controversial events at home provides the University an opportunity to educate its students on serious world issues, problems facing young adults in and out of college, and allows students to learn to analyze and criticize their surroundings in an effort to find solutions to these problems.
Ignoring the controversies that surround this University is far more damaging than inviting those controversies on campus.
What Catholic academic institutions like St. John’s need is more dialogue and less censorship, more exposure and less suppression. The idea of discussion following controversy, as was introduced by the recent “Borat” screening, is a small but important step in developing a much-needed campus dialectic.