Aquinas Nixes Vagina Monologues, Allows Jane Doe Project

Aquinas The Jane Doe Project

On Thursday night, an original play titled The Jane Doe Project was performed at Aquinas College. The play was written by Aquinas student Cheyna Roczkowski in December after the Aquinas administration would not allow The Vagina Monologues to be performed on campus due its controversial sexual content.

In response, Roczkowski chose to write a play based on the experiences of Aquinas women (students, faculty and alumni, shared with the student writer and included anonymously in the play), meant to raise awareness about the issue of violence against women.

The play was part of a week of events, including a movie night and letter writing campaign on Aquinas’ campus. Before the performance was a cupcake sale, in which $381 were raised. The proceeds will be divided between several women’s organizations in the area. There was a high turnout, including members of the Aquinas Administration.

The Performance

The play was a series of monologues performed by eight female students dressed in black, all of whom entered the stage saying “I am Jane Doe,” who was established to be a “New Feminist,” a faceless person to represent all women. Silence as the enemy was the theme of the play–its goal to open up conversation about violence against women, and “fight the system” through education.

The stories varied in style and topic: a woman raped by her brother at a young age, a diary entry of a lesbian degraded and raped by a male, a series of letters burned on stage detailing an abusive relationship, a mother and daughter grappling with the daughter having been conceived by rape, and a woman whose sister had to have reconstructive surgery during an abusive relationship. In between were comedic sketches about happy relationships, bad pick up lines, and working out at the gym. There were also various derogatory phrases from around the world highlighted throughout the performance (“Words are for women, actions are for men.”)

The stories were powerful, for their content and the knowledge that they had actually happened to women in the Aquinas community. Although none of the students in the play were experienced actors, all of the parts were read passionately and effectively.

Pro-Choice Advocacy

The Jane Doe Project occurred during the second Pro-Life Awareness Week of the academic year at Aquinas. The abortion issue came up, as one student defiantly stated that being pro-choice does not mean pro-abortion.

Critiques

A running theme throughout the play was the idea of a “New Feminist,” similar to third-wave feminism – the idea that wearing revealing clothes and make up (“high heels, red lipstick, curve accentuating jeans and showing a little cleavage”) should be empowering. Many who identify as feminists, however, would argue that societal pressure to cover their faces with products and wear clothes that reveal their body is extremely disempowering, and prefer not to consume these products.

The play was also hetero-normative, as every romantic couple portrayed (notably the positive, healthy examples as well as the abusive) was heterosexual.

Overall, The Jane Doe Project brought up an important issue, but its message was convoluted by some mainstream societal ideas.

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City May Cut Funding for Domestic Violence Shelter

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According to an email from the local YWCA, the City of Grand Rapids may cut around $41,000 that it has provided annually to the YWCA’s domestic violence emergency shelter. The YWCA reports that there were 3,644 reported victims of domestic violence in 2006 (the most recent numbers) in Kent County and that 500 women and children were housed in the shelter in 2006-2007. Mediamouse.org urges you to contact the city on this important issue:

Greetings YWCA Friends,

Attached, please find a letter that the YWCA will be sending today in response to receipt of the preliminary budget presented to the Grand Rapids City Commission.

The YWCA’s domestic violence emergency shelter has received funding through the city for many years from General Revenue Sharing (GLR). Our GLR funding is approximately $41,000, which is 8.5% of the YWCA emergency shelter and 24-hour crisis support budget. The city’s preliminary budget eliminates funding for programming offered to the community under GLR.

GLR funds pay for YWCA emergency shelter weekend and evening staff. Safety can not be maintained at the shelter without these critical positions being in place. Please help!

WHAT WE NEED:

* READ THE ATTACHED LETTER

Take sections of it and compose an email, send a letter, or call your commissioner (contact information below). If you do not reside in Grand Rapids and do not know a specific commissioner, communicate with Mayor George Heartwell or City Manager Kurt Kimball. Let the city know how important these services are to survivors of domestic violence and their children. Let them know that you support the services of the YWCA. Urge them to continue funding the YWCA Domestic Crisis Center at current funding levels.

* SEND A LETTER TO THE EDITOR (pulse@grpress.com)

* ATTEND THE PUBLIC HEARING ON THE BUDGET, VOICE YOUR SUPPORT

5/27 Public Hearing 7 p.m.

City Commission Chambers, 9th Floor

City Hall

300 Monroe NW

Downtown Grand Rapids

* PASS THIS ON TO ANYONE AND EVERYONE YOU KNOW IN THE GREATER GRAND RAPIDS AREA.

Thank you so much for your support of the victims of domestic violence served by the YWCA.

SAMPLE LETTER:

All letters to the Grand Rapids City Commission, Mayor, or City Manager should be addressed to:

NAME

300 Monroe NW

Grand Rapids, MI 49503

City Manager

Kurt Kimball

manager@grcity.us

Phone: 456-3166

Mayor George Heartwell

mayor@grcity.us

Phone: 616.456.3168

First Ward Commissioner – James Jendrasiak

jjendras@grcity.us

Phone: 456-3035

First Ward Commissioner – Walt Gutowski

waltgutowski@grcity.us

Phone: 456-3035

Second Ward Commissioner – Rosalynn Bliss

rbliss@grcity.us

Phone: 456-3035

Please note: Rosalynn is the co-chair of the Kent County Domestic Violence Coordinated Community Response Team (DVCCRT) and very tuned into domestic violence issues.

Second Ward Commissioner – David LaGrand

dlagrand@grcity.us

Phone: 456-3035

Third Ward Commissioner – James B. White, Sr.

jwhite@grcity.us

Phone: 456-3035

Third Ward Commissioner – Elias Lumpkins, Jr.

elumpkin@grcity.us

Phone: 456-3035

May 8, 2008

Mayor George Heartwell

Members of the Grand Rapids City Commission

300 Monroe NW

Grand Rapids, MI 49503

Re: Preliminary Fiscal Plan – General Local Revenue Sharing appropriation

Dear Mayor and Grand Rapids City Commissioners:

It is with deep concern that we are writing to you in response to the elimination of the General Local Revenue Sharing (GLRS) appropriation within the city’s preliminary fiscal plan. The YWCA West Central Michigan is our community’s largest provider of domestic violence services and as such is a contracted service currently funded through the GLRS appropriation. It is our hope that the following information provides strong rationale for maintaining the YWCA’s funding either through the current appropriation or another municipal revenue source. Equally so, we believe it outlines the critical nature of the YWCA’s domestic violence crisis services to the city of Grand Rapids.

Currently, the city’s GLRS appropriation for the YWCA’s domestic violence emergency shelter is $41,121 and accounts for 8.5% of the budget for the YWCA’s shelter and 24-hour crisis intervention services. GLRS funding pays for our weekend and overnight staff. Staffing during these periods is critical to the safety requirements of domestic violence survivors. Elimination of this funding would seriously undermine the YWCA’s ability to serve those who are most in danger.

The scope of domestic violence in our community is tremendous. The Michigan Uniform Crime Report showed that in 2006 (the most recent accounting), there were 3,644 reported victims of domestic violence within Kent County. In the span of just 7 weeks last summer, 4 domestic violence situations escalated to murder. Three of these cases occurred within the city of Grand Rapids, including the death of a Grand Rapids police officer.

Within our 2006-07 reporting period, close to 500 women and children found safety within the YWCA’s domestic violence emergency shelter walls. These victims have been threatened with a level of lethality that requires our community to hide them from their assailants. In the absence of YWCA services, victims will be forced to remain in dangerous situations because they have no where to turn. Alternatively, in an effort to escape violence in their own homes, they will be forced into situations that increase their and their children’s vulnerability to victimization. Local law enforcement, hospitals, and other key services rely on the YWCA as a referral source when dealing with those who present in those venues.

Of the survivors who turn to us, 89% have minor children living with them. In addition, in the last 12 months alone, we have responded to 1015 of calls for crisis support.

GLRS funding from the city of Grand Rapids pays for staffing for:

* Immediate, safe emergency shelter

* 24 hour crisis intervention telephone support

Once in our shelter, services that we provide to survivors include:

* Help in locating and securing safe and affordable longer-term housing

* Help in finding financial assistance, medical care, and childcare

* Access to counseling and support groups

* Development of a personalized safety plan

* Personal panic buttons to help survivors – who have a lower risk of violence and are living in private residences apart from their assailants – stay in their own homes.

* Advocay support in the legal system

We realize the financial challenges the city of Grand Rapids faces and appreciate your willingness to consider the valuable role the YWCA plays in the safety and well-being of our community’s residents. Please strongly consider our request to keep funding for critical, safety-net services for domestic violence survivors and their children.

If you need additional information in making your decision, we will gladly provide it. Contact information is included below.

Thank you.

Sincerely,

NAME”

Andrea Smith Discusses Sexual Violence and Activism

On Tuesday, native author and activist Andrea Smith delivered a lecture focusing on the role of sexual violence in conquest and its relationship to American indian genocide. Smith also offered a number of suggestions for organizing and building a more effective and diverse anti-violence movement.

Tuesday night at the Wealthy Theatre, Native American author, activist, and scholar Andrea Smith delivered a lecture titled “Conquest: Sexual Violence and American Indian Genocide.” Smith, who has been a Nobel peace prize nominee and is currently a member of INCITE! Women of Color Against Violence, discussed sexual violence in native communities and sexual violence’s role in colonialism. Smith said that she came to this insight based on three realizations in her life—that as long as native peoples were destroying themselves through violence within their own communities that they did not need to be so focused on external threats, that there was a striking silence in native communities about rape, and that efforts by rape victims to seek support outside native communities was often met by opposition from other natives who opposed the “airing of the community’s dirty laundry” outside the native community.

Beginning with the argument that sexual violence is an inherent part of the colonial project, Smith gave several examples of how colonial thought and theory has been intertwined with an ideology of sexual domination. She discussed how the United States viewed the bodies of natives as “impure” and therefore “rapable” and explained how the mutilation of women’s genitals and public display of them at the Sand Creek Massacre was a manifestation of the sexual violence inherent in colonialism. It was also argued that patriarchy has played a key role in convincing people of the necessity of domination and that projecting a patriarchal view of natives onto them was necessary in order for the colonial project to succeed. Cultural appropriation, an ongoing aspect of colonialism, was also discussed as a form of sexual violence as it is an act of control and intervention that has its roots in the rhetoric of sexual domination, while it is manifest in its most crude way in books on “Native American sexuality” and spirituality. Environmental racism, with its notion that certain communities are “fit” for the dumping of nuclear and toxic waste (as they are impure or dirty) is a form of sexual violence, especially when it is considered that the first effects of environmental racism often manifest themselves in women’s reproductive organs. Similarly, the forced sterilization that targeted native women’s reproductive systems, both by the government and medical professionals as well as the various population control movements that arose out of the environmental movements in the United States, is also a form of sexual violence.

For Smith, violence, and specifically sexual violence, is an inherent part of a society centered on a patriarchal state and the struggle against colonization has to be a central part of organizing against domestic violence. Smith described how it is impossible for the state to be a solution to a problem that exists because of it and that laws created by the state to criminalize domestic violence more often put victims in jail than perpetrators. The criminalization approach is therefore flawed given that the approach exists in a society where fifty percent of men have indicated that they would rape if they could get away with it. Since nobody would seriously consider putting fifty percent of men in prison, the criminalization approach, based on the idea that there are a few isolated perpetrators of sexual violence is fundamentally flawed. The idea of “restorative justice” for sexual violence is also flawed as it does not address state violence at the same time nor does it work in a sexist society that often sides with the perpatrator.

Smith, who in her opening remarks stressed that she did not want to be seen simply as one with a unique analysis but rather as a part of a collective struggle, also shared several strategies and tactics for organizing. She stressed that it is important that those working for social change in the United States work to build truly mass movements, citing an example of people she met in Central America who discussed how they repeatedly mobilized 10 million people over a series of weeks while activists in the United States typically muster no more than 200 people and spend time walking in circles where they were able to get permits from the state to “exercise their right to free speech.” Central to creating a mass movement is a need to rethink the nonprofit industrial complex, as Smith discussed how foundation funding limits mobilizing by making organizations reliant on foundations rather than their base for support which discourages organizing to mobilize constituents and instead creates a movement that is accountable to foundations rather than working directly for those in need of a particular service. Instead, Smith argued that independent movements outside of the non-profit sector are needed and that non-profits need to be made accountable to an independent movement. Similarly, Smith argued that while it is important to have people “working from the inside,” such efforts will have little success if they are not backed by a strong independent movement outside of the institution.

In order to build such a movement, Smith said that it is important for resistance to develop not just in isolated communities but that it needs to be spread into other communities in order to effectively fight empire and capitalism. To spread such ideas, movements in the United States need to look at how they organize and need to think of ways to organize so that people can participate in social movements when they have time rather than demanding the extreme self-sacrifice that often characterizes activism in the United States. Smith also argued that movements need to develop more creative tactics such as effective use of the arts, street theatre, and music, and use those tactics for outreach rather than always relying on the overly intellectual arguments and the notion that people can be convinced of a particular position simply from a deluge of facts. Such approaches are necessary because they can be used to convince privileged people that they are not benefiting from their privilege in the long-term and that by shedding short-term gains they could achieve substantial improvements in their lives as it is real only a few people that have the majority of wealth and power in the United States.