(Last Update: 1/19/04)
Cardinal Newman Society has launched its annual protest of the “Vagina Monologues,” a vulgar play that is reportedly planned for 41 Catholic campuses beginning in February 2004.
I sent Fr. Biondi a letter last year protesting this display of vulgarity. It seems that more people will need to send letters this year. For the record, Fr. Biondi chose not to respond but left it to Fr. Mike May who wrote this to me last year:
President Biondi has asked me to respond to your e-mail concerning performances of "The Vagina Monologues" at Saint Louis University.
Since I was the one who gave permission for the play to be put on, it is appropriate that I explain my reasons for allowing it on campus.
The most compelling reason for allowing the play is because of the phenomenon that helped turn the play into a movement. Here as elsewhere, seeing the play caused victims of violence and abuse to come forward and share their stories, allowing a healing process to begin for them. It also helped the students involved in the play -to see that the sin and evil of abuse and violence is not just a problem somewhere else. It affects people whose names and faces they know. For the students in the play, the experience personalized the need to work for justice, to nurture and value each individual.
The second reason for allowing the play on campus is more pragmatic. Even given such a noble cause, the play is still problematic. At schools where the play has been banned, it has typically been produced just off campus, by the same students who wanted to produce it on campus. Since the play is then off campus, the school no longer has standing to attach conditions to its production. I judged that it would be better to allow the play and impose conditions.
The first set of conditions was placed on the student group and affected the use of the play as a fund raiser. The student group had to vest itself by doing substantial volunteer work tied to social justice issues with regard violence against women. They work at the local Catholic Worker house that is a shelter for battered women and they baby sit for single mothers who are trying to obtain skills to better take care of their children. They do a number of other service projects as well. The author of the play insists that all money raised by producing the play go to charities aimed at ending violence against women. I insisted that the charities receiving money from the local production can only
go to causes that are consistent with the Catholic nature of the University. The main beneficiary this year is the local Catholic Worker house that has provided shelter for battered women since I worked there as a seminarian.
The second set of conditions was aimed at adding a context to the play. Students involved with the play were encouraged to bring their parents to a production and most of them did so. Each performance of the play was followed by a discussion, led by faculty members. The discussions looked at violence and abuse from a number of aspects, including clinical aspects of counseling abuse victims and the history of abuse legislation in this country. The discussions also looked at reasons why some people find the play quite objectionable. I was pleased to see that the student newspaper
had editorials both for and against the play. Both editorials were well written and cogent. The students involved in the play had clearly read the opposing editorial and were taking the issues it raised seriously. The faculty members involved in the discussions plan to bring up objections to the play in class, objections that apply not only to this play, but also to a lot of entertainment that our society produces.
Besides the context created by adding discussions to the play, we set the play within a week of activities aimed at ending violence against women. There was a panel reflection on local community based responses to violence against women. We also brought in a nationally acclaimed ethicist, Jean Elshtain, to give a presentation "Women and Violence: A Catholic Understanding of Human Rights." The intent of the context was to keep the focus on the issue of violence against women rather than on the play. It was also to show the students that there are other ways besides this play to raise awareness.
I understand that some will disagree with my prudential judgment on how to proceed on this matter. As an educator, my normal reaction to flawed attempts by students to do good is not to shut them down until they get everything right. Instead it is to tell them they must live up to the standards of the academy and stand and answer the objections of all who protest. I would welcome a less problematic method that would engage the students as deeply on the issue of ending the epidemic of violence against women in the world as this play does. I would also prefer a world where none of my students had been victims of violence and abuse and thus would not find a flawed play like this to a
vehicle that lets them open up and begin a healing process. Society needs to be transformed in accord with Gospel values.
Thank you for your concern. I also would appreciate your prayers as I try to guide the College as well as I can.
Mike May, S.J.
College of Arts and Sciences
Saint Louis University
Whatever happened to "One may never do evil so that good may result"?