Below is an interview conducted by Socialist Action newspaper with a pair of student activists at the College of St. Scholastica in Duluth.
The Vagina Monologues is a performance that highlights violence against women and girls, and has become an important fundraiser for numerous programs dealing with these issues. It has become an annual event that
last year was performed 2300 times in 1100 different cities and towns across the world.
Recently though there have been a number of Catholic colleges that have made an effort to stop, or restrict the Vagina Monologues, claiming its frank discussion of women's anatomy and sexuality violates Catholic teachings.
Socialist Action recently sat down with two activists from Duluth, MN's College of St. Scholastica – where students who organized a showing of the Vagina
Monologues had to engage in a running battle with the schools Administration. The two students were Allison Ehlert and Lauren Brant. Allison is a member of Youth for Socialist Action and president of the college's feminist group - the Third Wavers, and Lauren is a writer for the school's newspaper, The Cable.
SA: Recently a feminist group at the College of St. Scholastica, the Third Wavers, brought the Vagina Monologues to campus. What response did they get from the college administration?
Allison: The administration said that we were allowed to have the performance as long as it was recognized as a form of academic freedom. Because this is a Catholic, private college, the administration had to
find "common ground" between what our Catholic identity teaches and what our diversity statement teaches. We were allowed to bring the performance to
campus as long as it was only open to the College of Saint Scholastica's (CSS) community, meaning students, faculty, staff, alumni, and family members of students and performers. It was also not allowed to be
advertised off campus.
SA: We understand that the administration initially tore down fliers that students had put up for the performance. What was the justification given for
Allison: Administration said the reason they did this is because our posters had a ticket price on them which implied that the performance was open to the
public. The posters also advertised chocolate vulva treats which they did not approve of because it in no way fulfilled the College's mission and, they said,
over stepped the bounds of academic freedom.
SA: How have the students who are organizing the Vagina Monologues responded to the Administrations actions and attitudes?
Allison: I was very upset to hear that they took the action to tear down all the posters! I felt it was very disrespectful and immature that they did not
contact me or any other member of Third Wavers first so that we (as a group) could personally take down the posters and put more appropriate ones in their places. Third Wavers members are also upset because the administration gave us a broad definition of what was and what was not allowed (and we followed it to the best of our knowledge), yet later they continually narrowed that
definition of what was allowed: saying that selling tickets implied "Open to Duluth public" and that the chocolate vulva treats we were selling we
inappropriate. They told us this a WEEK after our first performance and claimed they had no knowledge of similar chocolate vulva treats being sold two years ago when the college previously brought the Vagina Monologues
We are upset that they have not recognized the hard work and time each of us have put into this production to raise awareness and ultimately raise money for Safe Haven. It seems as though they are more concerned about their reputation as a Catholic university than they are about the work involved and the messages the Vagina Monologues present.
There has been a lot of uproar on campus because of this particular event. Most faculty, staff, and students are in support of Third Wavers and our
decision to bring the Vagina Monologues on campus; however there are some that would prefer the event not come at all, ever.
SA: According to other students we've talked to on campus, this isn't the first time the Administration has reacted hostility to feminist organizing on campus.
One student told us that in years past the Administration went to far as to shut down and ban a pro-choice group. Can you tell us about that?
Lauren: Yes, last year I took an internship with Minnesota NARAL (National Abortion and Reproductive League). When I tried to set up a table with buttons
and information flyers, I was told that I had to take down all my signs, buttons, and bumper stickers. I couldn't give away the condoms I received from my
organization, though later that year another group, SADD I believe, played condom bingo. It seemed to me that the administration was targeting my pro-choice group. Eventually, I gave up. It didn't seem like there was any way to win.
SA: What has the response of students been to all of this?
Lauren: I have received an overwhelming positive response to my message. However, I will add that I was more shocked by the students siding with the
administration and blaming our group for not trying to communicate better with those in charge. I have addressed each of these e-mails personally by saying
that if the administration would not allow her/him to speak about what matters, I would fight for his/her right to do so and that I am disheartened by these
SA: Anything else that you'd like to share with our readers?
Lauren: People need to know what is happening on Catholic college campuses. Two years ago the Vagina Monologues were open to the public with no changes made in the script. We sold vulva pops in the union. Now, we are allowed only a shadow of our original event. And it's not just here. I have been told by a faculty member that the University of St. Thomas [in St. Paul, MN] administration shut down their GLBT group completely.
Over the past two years I have seen a growing conservative movement at The College of St. Scholastica and little by little we are being told what cannot be done at a Catholic institution. I fear that we are headed in the same direction that other schools like St. Thomas have gone. The administration tells us we
need to keep our reputation as a "Catholic" college and this appears to be at the expense of academics.