Ads Emphasize “Monologues” Ban

Students Behind “Vagina Monologues” Publicize Clash With Student Affair


Students performed “The Vagina Monologues,” which share real-life stories of women who have experienced sexual violence. (Photo illustration by Salma ELmehdawi/ The Observer)

Published: April 13, 2011

“WARNING: Not supported by Student Affairs”this was the disclaimer emblazoned in bold at the bottom of each poster advertising this year’s production of “The Vagina Monologues” at FCLC. The play by Eve Ensler, which sold out all three of its performances on April 7, 8 and 10, has not received approval from Student Affairs since 2003. However, the students behind this year’s production aimed to increase awareness of the controversial aspect of the “Monologues” through newly aggressive advertising campaigns and blogging.

“People are coming up to me saying, ‘Whoa, we never knew that you guys were banned,’” said Rebecca Gehman, FCLC ’12 and president of ISIS. Although ISIS is not allowed to use its club name to promote the play because clubs are a part of Student Affairs, the members of ISIS are the primary planners of “The Vagina Monologues.”

“Years ago we were trying to deal with the system and really trying to convince [Student Affairs] to support us,” Gehman said, “but that’s really impossible when most of the student body doesn’t even know that [the play] is banned in the first place. So our goal this year is getting the truth out. Let’s set the record straight: it is banned. We just want to let students know that. Fordham doesn’t want you to know about the event; they don’t want you to know about the controversy.”

According to Keith Eldredge, dean of students, Student Affairs’ refusal to endorse “The Vagina Monologues” means that staff from Residential Life, Counseling Services and the Office of Student Leadership and Community Development are not allowed to attend the event. In addition, the student club ISIS is not allowed to sponsor the “Monologues” or include the club’s name in their advertising. As a result, they cannot apply for Student Affairs funding or utilize Campus Groups, the online system that clubs use to reserve rooms for events.

Eldredge said that Student Affairs does not support the production because of objections to one particular monologue, “The Little Coochie Snorcher That Could.” The monologue is told from the point of view of a16-year-old who was raped as a child, then has a sexual encounter with an older woman while under the influence of alcohol. Eldredge said, “For me, what it comes down to is that it kind of glorifies or puts in a positive light a couple of things that I find concerning: statutory rape and the use of alcohol with a minor. To glorify something that’s a crime, I think that goes too far.”

Student Affairs’ refusal to endorse “The Vagina Monologues” is not a new policy, but ISIS’s approach to this policy has taken a new shape this year. Advertising leading up to the 2011 “Vagina Monologues” included flyers that stressed Student Affairs’ disapproval, as well as a newly launched blog called “Vagina Vigilantes: A Blog About the Ban.” Its content includes links to articles and videos about sexual violence, promotions for events surrounding the “Vagina Monologues” and short, tongue-in-cheek posts about the writers’ statuses as “Not ISIS” and “V-Rebels.”

“The Internet is the only space where we can say whatever we want and it so happens that what we want to say is the truth,” Gehman said. “We’re not slandering anyone. We’re not spreading lies. We’re just saying, ‘Hey, by the way, “The Vagina Monologues” are banned.’ They [Student Affairs] don’t even like us using that word‘banned.’”

Although Student Affairs has not disputed the accuracy of the blog, its content has caused some tension between the “Vagina Monologues” planners and administration.

“I personally think the blog is a bit adversarial,” Eldredge said. “There’s nothing on there that I’ve seen that’s factually incorrect or violates university policy in some way. But I don’t think it’s encouraging the spirit when we do [other sexual violence awareness events like] Take Back the Night or ‘Until the Violence Stops,’ when we can collaborate and work together. It sets up a very adversarial relationship that hasn’t been in place the past few years.”

The students involved in “The Vagina Monologues” hope that their increasingly direct challenges to administration will prompt the University to reconsider Student Affairs’ policy. One of their main concerns is the absence of Counseling and Psychological Services at the event, where audience members are invited to speak out about their own histories of sexual abuse.

“It’s not just ISIS complaining, ‘We don’t get to use your printers, we don’t get to use your markers,’” Gehman said. “You know what? That’s fine; I will be appeased if they give us a 24-hour rape hotline like other schools, for security and safety with trained staff.”

Carli Mendoza, FCLC ’12 and cast member of “The Vagina Monologues,” said, “The reason why we stress so much that we don’t get support from the school is that the ban sends a message out that Student Affairs doesn’t care about violence against women or starting dialogue about women’s bodies. We let people know that the school doesn’t allow Counseling Services to be there or at the group discussion afterwards. That’s a big deal. People come out and admit that they’ve been raped and it would be really helpful to have professionals from the school there to make sure that everything is okay. Denying students that support is a big deal and other students need to know about that.”

Gehman said, “If students don’t already feel like no one cares about their experiences, they know now even more that Fordham doesn’t. The fact that Counseling Services isn’t there, the fact that Student Affairs isn’t there, is a reflection that nobody in this world cares about rape. …If Counseling Services aren’t there when we’re talking about rape, how am I supposed to tell the girls, ‘Counseling Services is there; go and try them. They’re not allowed to come here tonight, but maybe they might care if you stop by during their hours!’”

Although she declined to comment on counselors’ inability to attend “The Vagina Monologues,” Jennifer Neuhof, director of Counseling and Psychological Services, said, “Students who have experienced sexual assault recently or in their childhood…are welcome to come to our counseling center for an assessment of their needs, support, counseling and information. …If a student has emergent needs after hours or on weekends, they are encouraged to turn to a Residential Life staff member or Security who will assist them.”

In reference to Student Affairs staff being barred from attendance, Eldredge said, “I think it becomes challenging when inconsistent messages get sent. That’s why we don’t want to have staff there. It puts them in the position of students having to wonder, ‘OK, it seems like you disagree with the divisional stance on this issue; I wonder how many other things you disagree with.’ They could think, ‘You don’t really believe in the alcohol policy, so I can have a drink with you. You don’t really believe that I need to do X, Y and Z at club events, so you’ll let me slide there.’”

Eldredge suggested that, in order to raise awareness about sexual violence with involvement from Student Affairs, ISIS could continue another of Eve Ensler’s events that has been performed at Fordham in the past, “A Memory, A Monologue, A Rant and A Prayer” (MMRP). “It seems that MMRP is the closest [alternative],” he said. “There are other speakers or events or movies or programs to do on violence against women. MMRP is the next best thing.”

However, the students behind the production argue that Student Affairs has not proposed any alternatives that address issues of sexual violence as directly as “The Vagina Monologues.”

“‘The Vagina Monologues’ open discussion about those issues,” Mendoza said. “The ‘Monologues’ talk about issues in a very candid way and a lot of people connect with it. It’s a helpful way to have that conversation, and [Student Affairs] hasn’t proposed any other way to open that discussion, so all they say is, ‘No,’ even though we tell them the proceeds go directly to the V-Day organization, which helps women all over the world.”

Gehman said, “The way I see it is, if we can’t talk about vaginas, then we can’t talk about sex. And if we can’t talk about sex, how are we supposed to talk about rape? Rape is, at the end of the day, a perverted form of sex. And Fordham is kind of circling around the issue and not figuring out how to create a space where they can talk about it.”