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ND president: no ban on 'Monologues'

John Jenkins, CSJ, speaks:

Thanks to the efforts of somefaculty members, this year's performance of The Vagina Monologueswas brought into dialogue with Catholic tradition through panels that followedeach performance. Panelists presented the Catholic teaching on human sexuality,and students and faculty engaged one another and these issues in serious andinformed discussion. These panels taught me and perhaps taught others that thecreative contextualization of a play like The Vagina Monologuescan bring certain perspectives on important issues into a constructive andfruitful dialogue with the Catholic tradition. This is a good model for thefuture. Accordingly, I see no reason to prohibit performances of The VaginaMonologues on campus, and do not intend to do so.

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Grant Gallicho is an associate editor of Commonweal. You can follow him on Facebook and Twitter.



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How well will "Loyal Daughters" do; and who will contextualize it? Editorial comment aside, Jenkin's seems to have done an intelligent job on this; a teachable moment it would seem. I'd be curious to know what Anne Nussbaum thinks.

In all seriousness, I'm not sure what this teaches, Margaret. It seems to muddy the waters, frankly.It flies directly in the face of statements to the contrary made by the presidents of both CUA and Providence College. Does Fr. Jenkins mean that those institutions are not universities? Or perhaps it teaches that, at least at ND,when the going gets tough, the tough get gutless?Laying aside polemics for a moment, I do have a serious question. Is putting on the V-Monolgues really the best way to facillitate discussion of the issues at hand? The fact is that no one protesting the V-Monologues has suggested that students shouldn't be allowed to contemplate the socio-sexual-political meaning of having a vagina. If ND wanted to add a course on that subject along with their offerings on Muherista theology, and include a section that examines this question in the light of the Theology of the Body and Mulieris Dignitatem in addition to what post-modern feminists have to say on the subject, no one would be protesting that legitimate academic exercise. The question is really, does the V-Monologues serve the dialog it claims to promote. Clearly not. All it does is polarize any reasonable discussion of the issues at hand while simultaneously distracting from the real substance of the debate. And Ensler laughs all the way to the bank.Once again, the left has allowed it's knee-jerk, jr. high "you're not the boss of me" attitude to force them champion a device that doesn't even serve their cause. It's the same attitude that underscores their 30 years of equivocation on the abortion question; champion--or at least awkwardly defend-- a dubious methodology that polarizes every and any discussion while allowing the real questions to go unanswered and women to suffer, all the while making themselves feel oh, so grown up because, "You can't tell me what to do."Well, to them I say, "Grow up."So, Margaret, back to you. Did I understand the lesson promoted by this teachable moment? Do you?

Well, okay poliemics aside:Why is "The Vagina Monologues" so compelling that college students, women essentially, put it on year after year? I don't know. But I would guess that at UND and other Catholic institutions words and ideas that are rarely uttered are uttered! What Fr. Jenkins has added to the mix apparently are panels and discussions that do discuss those words and ideas and some of that discussion may provide the occasion for an intelligent version of Catholic teaching to be uttered! (I believing that almost everyone has fallen silent on the subject--altogether). Now of course on both fronts, unintelligent, untested, and silly words may be uttered. But one of the points of a college education is to help students tell the difference. I hope the UND decision contributes to that.As to CUA and Providence College, they've made a different decision. That doesn't mean they aren't colleges--one hopes, however, they do provide alternate means for something like the debate and discussion that UND is apprently trying to foster. I keep saying "apparently" because it would be helpful to hear from UND students/faculty on how those panels went.So, yes teachable moments. They don't come that often!

I am a grad student at Notre Dame in theology. I was personally unable to attend the performances of "The Vagina Monologues," but I have tried to keep up on the discussion. It seems to me that Father Jenkins' approach is exactly what is needed--good open discussion on a complicated matter. I agree with Margaret that many people obviously find resonance in this play, and it is therefore impossible to simply write it off as unable to serve dialogue. Our experience here seems to clearly indicate otherwise. Though the coverage is uneven, I have included below links to the ND student newspaper, the Observer, for the days of the perfomances so it might be possible for others to get a feel for what the post-production discussions looked like.

Thank you for those links. They give some sense of the discussion and I found them helpful. Are other comments, etc., that might help fill in the reactions to the play, the panels, and the ensuing conversations?But thanks for these.

I think Jenkins got it right when he said, "After all, a Catholic university is where the Church does its thinking, and that thinking, to be beneficial, must come from an intellectually rigorous engagement with the world." Students will take Catholic teachings more seriously when they see Catholic Univeristies and theology departments vigorously engaging, rather than fleeing from, the world and its many sins. If you want to see the VM at Notre Dame you have to walk through students praying the rosary outside. The context changes the experience. I saw it my freshman year and half the cast had ashes on their foreheads for Ash Wednesday, now, maybe the play shouldn't have been performed on Ash Wednesday but it changed the message for the audience to know that many of the actors were church going Catholics. Regardless, in the end, the Vagina Monologues is a red herring. It's not great literature, but that's not the issue, the issue is the Church engaging the world. I wrote a play about faith and sexuality at Notre Dame that under Fr. Jenkins original remarks would have been kept out of performing spaces at Notre Dame, even though many portions of it were very orthodox (priests, nuns, maried people who practice NFP etc.) now it will be able to be produced more openly. The issue at stake is allowing students at Cath. Univ. to publically engage these questions.They're going to think about them either way, at least this way, it's in an open forum where people are asked to think critically. If it's a Friday night in a women's dorm and everyone is watching Sex and the City, less critical thinking will probably be taking place.

Hello All,Thank you for the thoughtful replies.What I object to is the false dichotomy that many of you are setting up here. Namely; either a campus must actively promote a play or other media or be accused of failing to engage the culture.I think the comments here, and Jenkins' response, display a remarkable lack of creativity. You're right, Ann. The Vagina Monologues are both bad art and a red herring. The problem is that they are being promoted as the best way to get a discussion going about the experience of women in 21st century America. Really? Is it? Is that really the best a Catholic university can do? Well, perhaps that's the best ND can do, and if that is the case, then I thank God for the creativity of Catholic institutions like Seton Hall, Providence College, CUA, and a host of other Catholic universties who have the fidelity and fortitude to engage the culture in creative ways that are both beautiful and edifying while simulataneously managing to resist the urge to dumpster dive.Perhaps ND students, faculty and administration should be given the opportunity to take a lesson from their peers in the Catholic academy. What a dialog that would be. Sadly, I suspect that they are too busy running ahead to engage the culture to notice what they are leaving behind.

As a professor at a Catholic university I applaud Fr. Jenkins' solution to what has become a very vexing problem on Catholic campuses. As I read his carefully crafted statement, the result of wide consultation, I see a very thoughtful articulation of what makes a Catholic university both a university and Catholic. His statement ought to be read and mulled over rather than simply dismissed. The process ND engaged in offers a workable solution to what some would see as an insurmountable problem that touches on the very nature of Catholic identity in institutions of higher education. As I survey comments posted here and at several other blogs on the web I notice that they generate more heat than light. It is quickly apparent that the majority of opponents on this issue have a hard time grasping the issue, and that they would much rather settle for blind submission to their view of Catholic identity than to a meaningful exploration of how difficult it is to achieve in the contemporary world.The suggestion that the VM simple be read and discussed is one worthy of consideration. The VM however were designed to be performed and not read. What is the harm of having the performance as it was done at ND and then having the types of discussions Fr. Jenkins reported on in his statement? It seems to me that the end goal of cticial engagement with the VM is achieved better in the performance setting.From what I have read in the many opposing comments, often harsh, demeaning, uncharitable -- even to the point of questioning Fr. Jenkins' integrity as a priest --the view of a Catholic university is extremely narrow and would fit better a school of catechetics. These views are not necessarily represented on this site, but they are widespread in the blogs of the so-called "faithful" Catholics. In critically engaging the VM as ND has they have represented authentic Catholic theology on the body and human sexuality, which conforms exactly to the norms for implementation of Ex Corde Ecclesiae. In the University setting persuasion is preferred over indoctrination, indeed it is required lest education be mere brainwashing. In this matter, Fr. Jenkins and ND have shown the proper direction for Catholic universities to take in engaging difficult and controversial social, political, and cultural issues. In my opinion he should be praised rather than condemned.

For the sake of comparison, and discussion, here is how the new president of Providence Collete dealt with the issue:

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