Student-led ‘Vagina Monologues’ performed on campus again

Caitlin Cervenka reenacts a story at the The Vagina Monologues 2012. Photo by Rebecca Rebholz/[email protected]

Slippery roads, snowy sidewalks and a dip in temperature didn’t slow the production of “The Vagina Monologues” Friday evening in the Alumni Memorial Union Ballrooms, where 12 Marquette women performed scenes from the controversial play and answered questions from a responsive audience following the show.

“The Vagina Monologues,” organized by Empowerment, Marquette’s feminist student organization, have been performed by Marquette students for eight years, although last year marked the first on-campus production since 2007.

The show was temporarily banned due to Marquette’s regulations on what is deemed inappropriate or in opposition to the Jesuit university’s mission. Last year, as a compromise, the production was allowed back on campus on the conditions that it had an academic sponsor and an audience response session following the monologues. Roberta Coles, social and cultural sciences department chair, chose to take the job on behalf of her department for the past two years.

Coles said allowing the monologues is a big step for Marquette.

“In the last few years, campus administrators have come to realize that these monologues, developed from the experiences of real women, are a powerful and meaningful medium for women of all ages to speak for their own individual rights (as a sexually equal being deserving of respect) as well of those of women worldwide whose well-being and value are violated and demeaned on a daily basis,” Coles said in an email.

The award-winning play is based on playwright and activist Eve Ensler’s interviews with more than 200 women over several years. It was originally performed by the playwright herself alone and was written in 1996.  The purpose of the monologues is to look at female empowerment in the context of the vagina and to celebrate women’s sexuality and strength, according to the introduction of the play.

Elizabeth Mueller, a senior in the College of Arts & Sciences and Empowerment co-chair, performed in and planned the event. She said the mission of “The Vagina Monologues” was to start a conversation at Marquette regarding women’s sexuality and violence that occurs to women across the world.

“I think this is more important and relevant than ever, considering the sexual assaults that occurred on campus last year and the way they were dealt with,” Mueller said. “Even with the positive changes that have happened in policy and procedure since then, it’s important that we stay visible and continue talking about ways that we can support victims of sexual assault and work towards a culture where behaviors that are connected to sexual assault, such as rape myths, sexist jokes and gendered violence, are unacceptable as well.”

The monologues have faced opposition at Marquette and other Catholic campuses due to its content, and as a result, the Empowerment executive board and Coles have worked with the Office of Student Development in order to maintain positive relations with the university.

Kristin Sippel, senior in the College of Arts & Sciences and Empowerment executive board member, has performed in The Vagina Monologues the past three years and helped plan the last two. Sippel said Empowerment had to take the monologues off campus because there was too much opposition, but that it has been a worthwhile fight to have them back on campus in the past two years.

“We need to have multiple meetings and there are still requirements we have to meet for the university to consider allowing this on campus,” Sippel said. “I think the fact that we have faced so much opposition just shows how important it is to have this on campus.”

In order for The Vagina Monologues to occur on campus, a mandatory talkback session is required with a university representative. Sippel and Mueller said this year’s talkback went well.

“We had some students thank us for being brave enough to put on this performance and discuss these issues so openly … We also heard from a couple of very strong and brave women who shared that they had experienced sexual assault and the effect the monologues had on them, which was pretty powerful.”

As a graduating senior, Mueller hopes that the monologues continue to have great success.

“A lot of us are graduating this year, so even though it’s sad for us to leave this behind, it’s a great opportunity for a bunch of new people to get involved, both as performers and organizers,” Mueller said.

Nicholas Seglund, a sophomore in the College of Nursing, attended the show for the first time last Friday and thought it was funny but educational at the same time.

“It was about different struggles women go through, like sexual assault and sexism, and turned out to be a very positive experience,” Seglund said. “I think everyone in attendance enjoyed it and took something out of it no matter if you were a man or a woman.”