New Departments Support “Vagina Monologues”


“The Vagina Monologues,” an Eve Ensler play organized and produced by Fordham students in order to raise awareness of violence against women, has received funding from academic departments this year that have not financially supported the play in previous years.

According to Amy Bucknam, Fordham College at Lincoln Center (FCLC) ’14 and president of ISIS, FCLC’s feminist club that produces the play, the departments of theology and history have added their support to “The Vagina Monologues” this year.

Bucknam said it was an exciting surprise to get additional support from different academic departments for the play, set to take place in April, since it has faced oposition from Fordham as a Jesuit institution in the past. “ISIS members put on the production every year, and it’s not funded by the Office of Student Leadership and Community Development (OSLCD), Student Affairs or the Student Activities Budget Committee (SABC). They only approve our budgets,” Bucknam said.

“The Vagina Monologues” is a production directed and written by Ensler, an activist and playwright. The university’s administration has disapproved of “The Vagina Monologue’s” adult themes and sexual content as clashing with Fordham’s Jesuit mission. Because of this, OSLCD has been banned from having any connection to the show. ISIS organizes the production, but the club is not publically affiliated with the show.

Bucknam said that the women’s studies department has always been one sponsor for the production, and students send letters to departments for more. “This year we got more help from them than I ever experienced before,” she said. Regarding the department contributions, Bucknam said, “It shows a lot. We’re so proud to have all this support, especially from theology, but also from the history and English departments.”

Associate Chair of History at FCLC Doron Ben-Atar described the play’s role as an important symbol on campus and said that he was involved in providing funding for the production. “It was a natural fit for me since I teach the history of sexuality and I was the first advisor to the gay students organization at FCLC,” Ben-Atar said. “When the administration refused funding for ‘The Vagina Monologues,’ we moved in the history department to sponsor the event, together with English.” He added that the history department’s support for the play is unanimous.

According to Ben-Atar, the play is important because “it stands for the equality of feminine desire and at the same time raises our voice against the prevalence of gendered violence against women.” He added that productions at Fordham with messages like the ones in “The Vagina Monologues” hold significance because “they have given a room for young students who have been abused to raise their voice about it and give support to abused young women.”

According to Anne Hoffman, associate chair of English at FCLC, the English department has supported “The Vagina Monologues” as long as the university has disapproved of it. “We think that the women’s group [ISIS] deserves funding,” Hoffman said, “but given that the school has denied them for years now, we think it’s important to allow them to put on this performance.”

Hoffman said she sees this as an issue of academic and artistic freedom, and that she has included the play on the syllabus for her spring “Feminist Theories” course since the administration first denied the play funding.

“This issue has been going on for years, ISIS has been terrific in terms of setting up opportunities for dialogue and inquiry,” Hoffman said. “We feel very strongly that the university, as a place devoted to inquiry, including artistic collaborative work, should support this kind of a project.”

The theology department would not comment on the department’s contribution.

Bucknam spoke of the importance of raising awareness of violence against women and promoting organizations to help protect victims and survivors, and the motives behind the play. “Girls Education Mentoring Services (GEMS) is the only organization in New York that helps to stop sex trafficking,” she said. “It’s really great and provides resources and shelters for women who are still experiencing it. It’s great support for a lot of women. It’s doing great, but it’s still the only one in New York.”

ISIS advisor and Assistant Professor of Communication and Media Studies Margaret Schwartz said that her involvement with “The Vagina Monologues” is limited and mostly consists of approving budgets, and that the students, “do an amazing job all by themselves.”

According to Schwartz, the play turns to funding from academic departments at Fordham because it cannot get funding from Student Activities. “It’s traditionally been from women’s studies, but this year there has been more,” she said. “I know that in the past few years they have done more publicizing of the event as something that Fordham doesn’t financially support.”

Schwartz said that she does not believe increased support from departments suggests a possible increase in support from Fordham as an institution. She also commented on the production’s standpoint on the matter. “I’ve heard some of the women and I’d say they almost rather do it with the departments and not with Student Activities because they don’t want to be censored,” she said. “They would have to cut some parts out to get support from Student Activities.”

Schwartz suggested that the greatest concern might be the rape scene in the play. “And this isn’t about being sexy,” she said. “It’s about raising awareness of sexual violence. But it’s been 15 years, and it’s like asking them if they’ll change their minds about birth control.”

Schwartz recalled a letter from the law school having to do with the Ann Coulter issue, asking why the administration supported College Republicans’ right to free speech and not “The Vagina Monologues.” She added, “The fact that the theology department wants to support it is a big statement.”