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Jenkins won't ban ‘Vagina Monologues' at ND

Originally published in:
South Bend Tribune

‘Catholic teaching has nothing to fear from engaging the wider culture'
Tribune Staff Writer

SOUTH BEND — Declaring that Catholic teaching has nothing to fear from engaging the wider culture, the Rev. John I. Jenkins announced today that he will not ban future student performances of “The Vagina Monologues” at the University of Notre Dame.

The announcement by Notre Dame's president came after 10 weeks of intense discussion and debate among students, faculty and alumni about Catholic character and whether certain artistic performances should be barred on campus.

Jenkins today issued a “Closing Statement on Academic Freedom and Catholic Character.”

In the statement, the priest cited the Gospel of Jesus Christ in saying Catholic intellectual tradition develops through a dialogue with culture.

“How our ancient but evolving Catholic tradition expresses itself in the future depends to a large extent on the work of this and other Catholic universities. 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,” Jenkins wrote.

“For that reason, I am very determined that we not suppress speech on this campus. I am also determined that we never suppress or neglect the Gospel that inspired this university,” he wrote.

Jenkins launched the campus discussion in January when he announced that he was considering whether annual student performances of “The Vagina Monologues” and a gay film series should be barred on campus in the future. He said he was concerned that the annual events gave the mistaken impression that the university endorsed the views presented in such performances.

“The Vagina Monologues,” written by playwright Eve Ensler, is a theatrical production that deals frankly with women's views on their bodies and sexuality. It is performed annually on hundreds of campuses with the goal of raising awareness about sexual assault and domestic violence.

Jenkins attended a performance of “The Vagina Monologues” on campus in February, and an academic discussion panel that followed the performance.

“These panels taught me and perhaps taught others that the creative contextualization of a play like ‘The Vagina Monologues' can bring certain perspectives on important issues into a constructive and fruitful dialogue with the Catholic tradition. This is a good model for the future,” Jenkins wrote.

“Accordingly, I see no reason to prohibit performances of ‘The Vagina Monologues' on campus, and do not intend to do so,” he stated.

Jenkins said he still believes that the play's portrayals of sexuality oppose Catholic teachings, but that there must be room in a university for expressions that do not accord with the church's teachings.

Jenkins said he received hundreds of responses to his request for opinions from students, faculty and alumni about the Catholic character issue.

The gay film series, previously known as the “Queer Film Festival,” was allowed to proceed this year after its name was changed to: “Gay & Lesbian Film: Filmmakers, Narratives, Spectatorships.”

After that name change, the campus discussion focused almost entirely on “The Vagina Monologues.”

Jenkins also announced Wednesday that he has formed an ad hoc campus committee on gender relations and violence against women, which he will chair.

He also expressed his support for student leaders of “The Vagina Monologues” who plan to produce a play next fall written in their own voices and describing their own experiences, titled “Loyal Daughters.”

Jenkins also released a new set of guidelines on sponsorship of campus speakers and events. It states, in part, that faculty and departments must explore controversial issues and departments should act within their disciplinary expertise in sponsoring events. Deans have a responsibility to make clear that sponsorship of an event does not necessarily imply endorsement, according to the statement.

For more about this story and campus reaction, read Thursday's Tribune.