The typical Gallagher Theater audience of college students was joined by three members of Xavier University Police Department during this Saturday’s Annual showing of The Vagina Monologues.
The officers were stationed outside of the theater to protect playgoers from nay-sayers who had sent Rachel Chrastil, Associate Dean for the College of Arts and Sciences, and Father Michael Graham, president, dozens of calls and emails opposing the show being performed on campus.
The show, which explores female sexuality, was the subject of a a blog post from The Cardinal Newman Society, an organization that claims to defend Catholic values in education, in February. The blog post lambasted Catholic college campuses that allow performances of the show, which they claim endorses predatory homosexuality. The website listed eight colleges, including Xavier, that had scheduled performances as well as the date of each show.
Stephen Skiles, the head of the Theatre Department, spoke with theatre majors informing them of the emails and ensuring the cast and crew’s safety. None of the emails were mentioned for including violent threats.
This year, critics were focused on a particular monologue titled “The Coochie Snorcher.”
Emily Jorgenson, who was crew on this year’s show, explained that if certain lines were taken out of context, “The Coochie Snorcher” could be used to normalize sexual relations between minors and adults. The character, who is unnamed, is 16 years old when she has sex with a 24-year-old woman.
Jorgenson explained that for those who know the play, that is far from the intention of the scene.
“She was raped as a child, so she felt like she could never have a healthy sexual experience,” Jorgenson said. “So she met this woman who kind of like offered herself to her, and she accepted it and finally had a good experience with her body and her sexuality.”
The Vagina Monologues is no stranger to controversy on Xavier’s campus. In 2003, the show created a rift in the Xavier community and across the nation.
Earlier that year, the Cardinal Newman Society had criticized the show for vulgar content and representing women primarily by their genitals.
Concerned alumni and community members alike wrote letters to the Newswire both in favor of presenting the show and banning it from campus altogether.
Graham had the show canceled after backlash and was not open to discussing the matter at that time.
In response to the show’s cancellation, students organized a rally titled “Our Lips Are Sealed: Students Against Xavier Censorship.”
These days, The Vagina Monologues don’t attract as much attention.
Besides cast or crew members, other students defended the show.
First-year exercise science major Elizabeth Arnold agreed with Chrastil. She found the play to be educational and did not consider it to endorse sexual activities between adults and minors.
“I think it was used as an educational tool because the different scenarios were from true stories,” Arnold said. “I think the show was to inform people of the potential dangers rather than to make people feel uncomfortable.”
After the show, Chrastil sat in on a talk-back in which audience members were encouraged to ask questions and react to the show.
To those who expressed their feeling that The Vagina Monologues were “rude and contrary to Catholic teaching,” Chrastil referenced Xavier’s values.
“The play is all about women talking to each other and having real, honest conversation,” Chrastil said. “This play allows us to do that.”
She also discussed Catholic values and how Xavier seeks to incorporate them.
“The Church calls us to listen to people without judgment, and that is what we are trying to do here at Xavier,” Chrastil said.
Jorgenson felt supported by administrators throughout the preparation for the show.
“The deans were behind us, specifically Father Graham was behind us and there was never any intention of canceling the show by any means,” Jorgenson said.
Jorgenson continues to see a place for The Vagina Monologues on campus since the stories presented are still relevant. She added that the controversial nature of the show could be a strength. “In all honesty, sometimes that’s the goal of theater. We want people to argue with us and have opinions and challenge some beliefs.”
By: Brittany Wells and Heather Gast | Staff Writer and Campus News Editor