In an unprecedented vote, United Student Government’s House Committee, a third party voice on student issues, has moved forward in supporting the student group, Fordham Women’s Empowerment, and its effort to hold its staging of The Vagina Monologues under the Office of Student Leadership and Community Development.
The vote affirming its support for The Vagina Monologues was the first such vote the House Committee has granted in its existence. The group, composed of six students of various schools and years, is a joint committee of both USG and Student Life.
The 6-0 vote took place on Feb. 12.
Regarding The Vagina Monologues, the token of support followed talks with Christopher Rodgers, dean of students; Alanna Nolan, assistant dean for student leadership and community development, and the leaders of Women’s Empowerment group, including Rachel Dougherty, Claire Mardian, Carissa Avalos and Wilmarie Cintron-Muniz.
The House Committee, which serves the role of establishing and advancing policies, procedures, capital expenditures and facilitates management, has been in direct talks with both sides of the issue, that of the administration and that of the student body, for a number of months.
While the vote of support is official, the ongoing talks are not an appeal to a particular administrative decision, but instead a way of continuing dialogue in the hopes of exploring further options for possible compromise regarding a future program or event.
There is no prescribed step for the committee to take next regarding the issue.
The House Committee is just one initiative following USG’s “Report on Speech and Expression.” Its power to vote on an issue and provide official support was established this year, while under the oversight of Emily Rochotte, GSB ’14, USG’s vice president of student life.
“I am very happy that the work that was put forth by USG and the Report on Speech and Expression last year was able to be put into effect through the House Committee this year,” said Rochotte.
Students of the committee are equally optimistic regarding the future of free speech on campus.
“Now that students are aware of the House Committee’s ability to vote against the beliefs of the university, more people will be motivated to contact us if they ever come across an issue that can be voted on,” said Andrew Reda, FCRH ’16, a member of the committee.
“We have to voice our opinions so that the campus can be more representative of our beliefs and what we think should be happening on campus,” said Kaitlyn McWha, GSB ’17, a member of the committee. “That is why the House Committee is so important.”
The play under dispute, The Vagina Monologues, was originally written by Eve Ensler in 1996. It presents various women’s encounters with sex, love, rape, birth and menstruation, among other topics. Originally performed in New York City’s HERE Arts Center in SoHo, the monologues have been praised for their empowering showcase of the feminine experience.
There has been no shortage, however, of criticism of The Vagina Monologues from social conservatives, feminist critics and other groups as well.
According to an article in Vol 88. of The Fordham Ram, The Vagina Monologues lost its association with the Office of Student Affairs after the “sudden withdrawal of funding by the Student Activities Committee” in 2004. Two years later, the performance made a “triumphant return” to the community, sponsored by Women’s Studies, American Studies, Literary Studies, Social & Anthropology and Latin American and Latino Studies. Its continuation at Fordham has depended on funding from Women’s Studies ever since.
The University’s justification for withdrawing funds is rooted in one monologue in particular, titled “The Little Coochie Snorcher That Could.” The original monologue recounts a violent sexual experience from the perspective of a 13-year old-girl. However, due to scrutiny, her age was changed to 16 in later versions of the text. The monologue also originally included the line, “If it was rape, it was a good rape,” but has since been removed from later versions.
Performing the monologue amended, however, would not be in accordance with the script’s copyrights.
“I encouraged the committee to read it and reflect on its message, especially the fact that it has been edited by the author already to address similar concerns,” said Dean Rodgers regarding the perennially controversial monologue.
The possibility of members of the Fordham community seeing the performance as extolling sexual assault contradicts the university’s efforts to protect its students and combat such instances of violence on campus.
“Especially in light of recent attention on college campuses to sexual violence, a work that in any way romanticizes any kind of non-consensual sexual act should give us pause — it certainly gives pause to many [of] us who work with survivors of assault,” Rodgers added.
Other Jesuit universities holding The Vagina Monologues through administrative units include College of the Holy Cross and Loyola University of Chicago. Neither of these universities perform amended versions of The Vagina Monologues.
“We respect that passion and share it when it comes to a number of the play’s messages,” added Rodgers. “But I also hope that the discussion helped participants develop a greater understanding and respect for the views of those who don’t share their view of this play.”
When asked about the House Committee’s involvement, the members of Women’s Empowerment were thankful for the support.
“It’s a really important resource for students to have,” said one of the group’s leaders. “I don’t know what impact it will have with students to push this through—but [it] may be influential in other places.”
As for the House Committee, the group looks forward to voicing its opinion on other student-related issues.
“I hope that more clubs and organizations will use the House Committee as a third-party resource and know that our meetings are always open to the public,” said Rochotte when asked about the committee’s future.
Following its formation, the committee is seeking to aid any student-related issues it sees deserving of amplification in an attempt to continue creating dialogue between students and administrators, as well as among the student body.
“Everyone’s voice matters,” said Samantha Tan, FCRH ’16, a member of the House Committee, “and everyone’s voice deserves to be heard.”