Thursday, March 13, 2003

Class championing play

Canceled 'Monologues' finds new venue at Xavier

By Kristina Goetz
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Cathy Springfield (left), director of performing arts at Xavier University, thanks Jackie Kaminski for helping pass out fliers and petitions informing the public about the cancellation of The Vagina Monologues.

The show will go on.

Despite Xavier University's announcement Tuesday canceling three weekend productions of The Vagina Monologues, the play will go on as planned. But it will now be part of a human resources class instead of an event sponsored by the Student Activities Council.

Nancy Bertaux, an economics professor, announced Tuesday that she would include the production in a class that's part of Xavier's required E Pluribus Unum program. That program is dedicated to examining cultural diversity, specifically stereotyping, prejudice and discrimination and how they relate to power in American society.

"The presentation of The Vagina Monologues in her class is a legitimate exercise of academic freedom and moreover situates this controversial work in a suitable environment of debate and discussion," Xavier's president, the Rev. Michael J. Graham, said in a statement.

Twelve students started planning the play - which involves strong language about women's sexual experiences - in January to highlight domestic violence and raise money for a women's shelter. The Vagina Monologues are based on interviews with women that explore emotions at the heart of a woman's sexual identity. It was originally a solo performance piece by its author, Eve Ensler. Xavier students planned to perform monologues from the original play and their own.

Graham has known about it since February and came under fire from the Cardinal Newman Society to stop the production a week or two later, university officials says. But he did not announce to the public that the production would be canceled until Tuesday. That was after a meeting with about 130 students and faculty members.

"There are a lot of issues that he said he would be willing to throw himself on the spear for, but this play is not one of them," said Jackie Kaminski, a 20-year-old sophomore from Cleveland. "We see the canceling, the silencing of this play, as an act of violence against women."

Students who support the play say the administration gave in to outside pressure, some from the Cardinal Newman Society, a Falls Church, Va.-based organization dedicated to renewing Catholic identity in Catholic higher education. The group has a national campaign to remove the play from Catholic campuses. To date, five have banned the play and nine have scheduled the play but are not showing it, society President Patrick Reilly said.

He is disappointed in Graham's statement that the classroom is an appropriate setting for the production.

"It's an embarrassment to the university," he said. "The president has displayed a shocking level of hypocrisy, first by banning the play and now declaring that academic freedom supersedes the mission of the university. We'll keep pushing. Clearly he has backed himself into a corner. We will at least ask the bishop to make some sort of statement to say this is inappropriate."

While Archbishop Daniel E. Pilarczyk has no authority to stop the play, he does have the ultimate authority to say an institution is no longer Catholic, Reilly said.

Pilarczyk did not address the cancellation of the play but addressed the issue as a whole.

"I am not in favor of violence toward women, but I am not sure that opposing it via this particular vehicle is such a good idea," he said. "It may evoke more resentment than change of heart."

"We still don't feel our message is being heard," said Chris Sims, a 21-year-old junior from Detroit. "They are trying to appease us, but they're missing the whole point. They are telling women on campus that we don't matter. Why can't we talk about something we naturally have?"

That's why Sims and other students are planning a 3 p.m. rally Friday to show support for the play and freedom of speech on campus. The production will be at 8 p.m. Friday, and 5 p.m. and 9 p.m. Saturday in the Gallagher Student Center theatre. No tickets will be sold, but students are encouraged to make a donation, which will go to the Women's Crisis Center.


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