SPOKANE — The president of a private Catholic university is defending his decision to ban the play "The Vagina Monologues" from campus, forcing a women’s group to mount its production in a hotel ballroom this week.
Leaders of Gonzaga University, a Jesuit institution, decided last year that the school could not sponsor a performance of the controversial play. That drew protests from some at the college, who called it an issue of censorship and academic freedom.
"Censorship entails the suppression or deletion of ideas. I do not think there’s a censorship problem at Gonzaga," said the Rev. Robert Spitzer, president of the university, during a public debate this week.
There were numerous conversations about the play taking place in classrooms, and students are getting credit for attending the production, Spitzer said.
Spitzer, who drew criticism two years ago for canceling a Planned Parenthood speaker on campus, said the university cannot sponsor and associate itself with groups that espouse beliefs contrary to the doctrine of the Catholic Church.
Philosophy professor Mark Alfino argued before a standing-room-only crowd of 200 people that the ban was a threat to academic freedom.
"It’s a weak faith that doesn’t welcome challenges," Alfino said. "Academic freedom is not an open-ended license to say anything without impunity. Academic freedom is an openness to the responsible expression of ideas."
The play, written by Eve Ensler, consists of monologues delivered by several women and includes discussion of orgasms, pelvic exams, sexual abuse, sexual fantasies and childbirth.
It is being staged all over the country as a fund-raiser for V-Day, a nonprofit organization that works to stop rape, battery, incest, female genital mutilation and other violence against women.
The Women’s Studies Club at Gonzaga will present "The Vagina Monologues" on Thursday, Friday and Saturday at a hotel ballroom near the campus.
University spokesman Dale Goodwin said the club is affiliated with the school, but Gonzaga is not sponsoring the performances.
The play was recently performed at another venue in Spokane and at nearby Eastern Washington University.
Spitzer objected especially to a monologue about a lesbian affair between a 16-year-old and an older woman, an experience the speaker describes in the play as a "good rape."
Spitzer said the scene is against the "Catholic and Christian view of marriage."
Inviting certain speakers and allowing certain plays on campus, Spitzer said, "speaks volumes about who we are, what are mission is, what we believe."
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