Student Affairs Not Permitted To Attend “Vagina Monologues”


Published: May 5, 2010

On April 23, a group of female Fordham students presented the first of three performances of “The Vagina Monologues,” a play by Eve Ensler, to an audience in the South Lounge at Fordham College at Lincoln Center (FCLC). However, the audience, mainly comprised of students and a handful of faculty, was missing one thing: administrative representation.

Cast members of “The Vagina Monologues” wear “This is Not ISIS” T-shirts to address the issue of club funding and representation. (Courtesy of Ashley WennersHerron/The Observer)

“We’ve made a decision in our division that if no administrative units sponsor ‘The Vagina Monologues’ then it would be hypocritical to then have our staff present at ‘The Monologues,’” Michele Burris, associate vice president of Student Affairs, said.

Since Student Affairs, administration and staff are unable to attend “The Vagina Monologues,” they are not allowed to lead any discussion following the performance. The discussions are a regular part of the production, used to promote dialogue about the issues presented by the performance material. James Robilotta, residential director for freshmen, and a representative from counseling and psychological services were originally intended to be the leaders of the discussions, according to Kaisas Peguero, FCLC ’10 and president of In Strength, I Stand (ISIS).

“I was told I could not attend ‘The Monologues’ nor could I facilitate one of the dialogues that took place after each performance,” Robilotta said. “It’s unfortunate that the most well-trained group facilitators  on the campus, counseling and psychological services, could not be there for students who are impacted by this important and powerful piece.”

Luisa Abballe, FCLC ’10 and vice president of ISIS, said, “‘The Vagina Monologues’ is a vessel—a platform that would bring us to a discussion.”

Peguero said, “‘The Vagina Monologues’ is shocking. It’s part of the breaking of the silence. It’s about speaking up and its about finding a safe place.”

Keith Eldredge, dean of students at FCLC, said, “How are we going to put someone from Student Affairs in the position to do a debriefing of the monologues with an audience that just has witnessed the monologues when they are not going to be a part of the monologues? It’s going to put that facilitator at an extreme disadvantage and it doesn’t make sense.”

According to Eldredge, Jeffrey Gray, vice president of Student Affairs at Fordham University, has put a policy in place that doesn’t permit administration and staff that fall under Student Affairs to attend any performances of “The Vagina Monologues” at Fordham.

“When [student affairs staff] are enforcing policies, sometimes it can be confusing for students if they see staff who are tasked with enforcing policies implicitly or explicitly endorsing the opposite of that policy,” Eldredge said.

According to Jenifer Campbell, director of Residential Life at FCLC, employees of Student Affairs are informed during the hiring process that they are not allowed to attend “The Vagina Monologues.”

Eldredge said, “We say we are a Catholic institution and these are mission-related issues. If you don’t want to abide by these, then you are free to work somewhere else and that’s fine.”

According to Mary Procidano, associate professor of psychology and chair of the student life committee of the faculty senate, “A resolution was drafted in 2005 that suggested a conversation responding to the students’ concerns following an artistic presentation where audience members may be at risk.”

According to Anne Hoffman, professor of English at FCLC and advisor of ISIS, the faculty senate is committed to upholding the standards of the University that are expressed in our statutes and that include the American Association of University Professors’ (AAUP) 1940 statement on academic freedom.

“In the past, there was some form of agreement that in areas of controversy, there would be provision for consultation between student life and faculty,” Hoffman said, “We need to make sure that happens.”

Procidano said, “The position of Student Affairs is that they are a separate entity and they are not governed by statutes of the Faculty Senate. There’s no academic freedom stipulation for people in Student Affairs.”

Before 2004, “The Vagina Monologues” were edited to exclude or change parts of the controversial monologue, “The Little Coochi Snorcher That Could,” as well as other deemed vulgar or inappropriate material.  According to Eldredge, Student Affairs objects to the material dealing with statutory rape involving alcohol.

After Eve Ensler changed guidelines for “The Vagina Monologues,” performances had to include all of the censored material. Under the policies of Student Affairs, “The Vagina Monologues” could not be performed in their entirety under the Student Activities Budget Committee (SABC) funding.

SABC doesn’t allocate funds to ISIS to put on a performance of “The Vagina Monologues” at FCLC; therefore, the club cannot represent themselves under the club name nor use any Student Affairs facilities, according to Abballe.

Rebecca Gehman, FCLC ’12 and treasurer of ISIS, said, “They want to recognize us as ISIS when it works for them and they don’t want to recognize us as ISIS when it doesn’t work for them, so when we are putting on ‘The Vagina Monologues’, Student Affairs doesn’t have to take care of us because we are under an academic department.”

Rev. Vincent DeCola, S.J., assistant dean for first year experience at FCLC, said, “Everyone draws that line in different places and what we have here is the University perhaps choosing to draw the line at one place and personally I think they are drawing it at the wrong place. In this case, the attempt to censor ‘The Vagina Monologues’ is off-base because of the inherent value and lack of any real offensiveness of the piece.”

Maureen O’Connell, associate professor of theology at FCLC, said, “‘The Monologues’ reveal and raise so many questions and show the complexity of human sexuality and part of the Jesuit education is to delve into this complexity. Give students the space and tools they need to recognize the complexities before you move to simplify them.”

Holly Hughes, FCLC ’12 and director of “The Vagina Monologues”, said, “If Student Affairs is going to oppose this, I think they should do it in an open fashion and write it down. Because they refuse to own it, it’s surrounded by all of this secrecy.”

Procidano said, “It seemed like the women of ISIS didn’t know that Student Affairs was not going to support them. It was unclear whether or not they knew they could go to an academic unit and get support there.”

Hughes said, “I think this is the year that we’ve decided that things need to change and that enough is enough. I think it’s due to the amazing work that the members of ISIS have been doing talking with VP Gray, and from the support of their advisor, Anne Hoffman, to spread this message.”

Eldredge said, “I think one factor that may have something to do with [the increased attention this year] is what I might call a misunderstanding or miscommunication. I always encourage students—if you have grievances, bring them to the attention of the person you have the grievance with or the department.”

After a Faculty Senate meeting on April 30, Procidano said that, “We are left with the reality that if the senate is not free to direct Student Affairs, then we would like to see it made clear to students that what they can do to have ‘The Vagina Monologues’ sponsored and performed is to go through an academic unit.”

As far as the discussion between faculty members and those running Student Affairs, Burris said, “We have to come to a level of understanding with each other and agree to disagree.”