Sunday, March 16, 2003
Debating freedom at Xavier
My favorite part of the performance here last year of The Vagina Monologues was that I could go see it if I wanted to.
Or not. My choice.
My favorite part wasn't the vagina part, which was more inspection of that particular organ than I found intriguing. But I was glad we had a chance here in Cincinnati, unimpeded by our relentless "community values" vigilantes, to see why people all over the world have been watching Eve Ensler's play.
Translated into 36 languages and staged at nearly 700 American colleges and universities, the play includes a harrowing vignette about a Bosnian rape victim. It also is rife with bawdy humor.
The Cardinal Newman Society in Falls Church, Va., has dedicated itself to getting the play banned from Catholic universities. This attention and energy is puzzling when you consider that people with vaginas have hardly been the biggest problem plaguing the Catholic church recently.
Or even the biggest problem on college campuses. Campus Outreach Services reports that there is a rape every 21 hours on U.S. college campuses. The United Nations Study on the Status of Women 2000 reported that somewhere in America a woman is battered every 15 seconds.
So, it's not surprising that some Xavier University students might want to increase awareness and raise money for a women's shelter with a benefit performance of The Vagina Monologues.
Enter the administration in the person of the Rev. Michael J. Graham. Xavier's president announced Tuesday that the play would not be permitted. Then he said it would. Same play. Same times. Same campus. But, because of the intervention of a professor, it would just not be his fault. Or his responsibility.
Nancy Bertaux said she'd include the play in the curriculum of her human resources class, a required course. So it now falls under the heading of academic freedom, which Graham says "situates this controversial work in a suitable environment of debate and discussion."
In other words, it's now part of a course of study. Bertaux has said she wouldn't take attendance, but if you were a student hoping for an A, wouldn't you think you should probably go? Your teacher put her reputation on the line. So it must be important. At least to her.
Would you really like to confess that you were not interested? Or that you were embarrassed? For instance, I think every man has the right to life, liberty, the pursuit of happiness and a penis. But I don't want to go see a play about it. "Why can't we talk about something we naturally have?" said student Chris Sims.
That seems reasonable. Just as it seems reasonable that a discussion of this sort might be better if it were, more or less, voluntary. Optional. Not a requirement.
Maybe the compromise, the loophole is better for the university. It might be better for the university's president. But it's hardly better for students who want to choose whether to see a two-hour discussion of vaginas.
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@ The Front
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