Thursday, April 06, 2006

did anything change at notre dame?

back in january i had some harsh words for notre dame university regarding its seeming censorship of a gay film festival and the vagina monologues. back then, i said of revd john jenkins, new ND president:

[...] now rev'd jenkins has taken that step, from not sponsoring things he disagrees with to saying that such things "should not be allowed." he's not quite ready to actually ban these events, but he doesn't have a problem with "scaling them back"... to such a point that the "queer film festival" must be renamed, and the vagina monologues cannot sell tickets and must be held in a classroom rather than an actual theatre. so if you've ever wanted to see the vagina monologues but just don't want to pay for it, you might want to schedule a trip to south bend, because i hear their production of the play will be free of charge.

cut forward to yesterday, when the indy star printed a cheery-sounding AP follow-up on the story:

The University of Notre Dame will allow "The Vagina Monologues" and a gay film festival to continue on campus, the school's president said today.

The Rev. John I. Jenkins 10 weeks ago questioned whether the two events belonged on the campus of a Roman Catholic university.

wait... while it's true that he did question whether they belonged at notre dame 10 weeks ago, he already announced way back then that the shows would be allowed to continue. here is a quote from the original AP/indy star story from 10 weeks ago, dated january 24:

Jenkins' predecessor, the Rev. Edward A. Malloy, allowed "The Vagina Monologues" and a Queer Film Festival on campus, but did not comment about them. He was criticized by Bishop John D'Arcy of the Fort Wayne-South Bend Diocese for allowing them.

Jenkins said he would allow "The Vagina Monologues" to be performed on campus this year, but only in a classroom setting and tickets can't be sold. He said the film festival will go on, but under a new name -- Jenkins said the Queer Film Festival "seems to celebrate homosexual activity" -- and with limited content.

"My understanding is there won't be discussion of morality of sexual behavior or sexual activity but rather a discussion of films about gays and lesbians," he said.

so is this even news? what happened here? i read this story once, wondered about it for a second, then forgot about it until i read this bilerico post praising the free speech victory. and again i wondered: was this a free speech victory at all?

the new star/AP piece doesn't mention that the film fest had to change its name from the punchy queer film festival to the anesthetic gay & lesbian film: filmmakers, narratives, spectatorships. i'm not the kind of person who uses the word "gay" as a synonym for "weak" or "sucks" or "lame" but if i were i would say "that new name is the gayest name i've ever heard!" the name isn't really gay per se; it's just atrociously dull.

yesterday's south bend tribune piece does mention the name change, but neither article mentions that the vagina monologues was indeed held in a classroom this year as well as prohibited from selling tickets and giving the proceeds to women's charities.

the only truly new developments in yesterday's star/AP article are these:

As a result of the debate, students who supported "The Vagina Monologues" have proposed to produce a play, describing their own experiences, titled "Loyal Daughters," he said.

Jenkins also will head a committee of students, faculty and administrators designed to foster a discussion of gender relations, sexuality and ways to prevent violence against women.

Jenkins said he has proposed to the Academic Council that the university adopt guidelines that state that while university departments should sponsor events that promote debate on controversial subjects, academic departments are best suited to decide which subjects should be addressed.

"Chairs, however, must make informed judgments on whether provocative presentations have academic or artistic value, or are gratuitously offensive," the proposal says.

The proposal also says academic departments have a responsibility to make clear that sponsorship does not imply endorsement of the views expressed by a speaker or of an event.

the questions remain: will the vagina monologues actually be allowed to perform in a theatre next year, or will it be held in a classroom forevermore? will they be allowed to sell tickets next year, or fundraise for women's causes?

my reading of the written guidelines is that they cannot do any such fundraising:

D. Following the principle of subsidiarity, departments are best situated to decide what events should and should not be sponsored, and to explain the nature of their sponsorship. Chairs should be an important part of communicating the academic rationale for controversial events. In contentious matters, they should avoid use of framing and language (e.g., festival, celebration, and fundraising) that misleadingly give the impression of endorsing controversial perspectives, especially those directly contrary to Catholic teachings.

they're not even allowed to use the word "fundraising". note that this also explains the name change for the film fest: you're not allowed to celebrate gay film; you may only discuss it at events with stuffy-sounding names.

as for whether the vagina monologues may be performed in a real theatre next year, i haven't been able to figure that out. the guidelines seem to suggest that such a decision would be up to the department chairs, but i'm not really sure. i haven't been able to dig up anything definitive either way, and would appreciate insight from any NDU students or insiders. i really want to believe that this is a major free speech victory, but it seems like a small victory at best.

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