The Vagina Monologues Should be an Ongoing Conversation

By Jennifer Long

vmOur society is not yet inclusive or representative of all people’s voices. Women, for example, have a number of experiences related to violence and oppression that still need to be heard and championed.

DePaul’s 18th Annual Vagina Monologues was a reminder of that fact. A reminder, because decades after Eve Ensler wrote and performed the original play at the Off-Broadway Westside Theatre, her words are still recited and are still able to disarm and empower an audience.

I had the pleasure of attending this play on the Lincoln Park campus in early February. It helped me grow in my understanding of DePaul women.

A collaborative effort between The Women’s Center, the Theatre School and the Office of Health Promotion and Wellness, this performance activism entitled “Vagina Monologues” raises awareness of the breadth of women’s experiences through Eve Ensler’s writing and personal monologues written by DePaul students.

It’s performed every year at DePaul around Valentine’s Day weekend, and proceeds from ticket sales support three on-campus organizations: Rape Victim Advocates, A Long Walk Home and Take Back the Halls. In fact, performances all over the country under this name have raised over $100 million dollars in support of women’s and domestic organizations since its inception.

I should have known that this combination of expression, intention and vulnerability would be reviving.

Throughout the play, audience members were encouraged to clap, holler or snap whenever a monologue resonated. I imagine many, like me, lost count of how many times they participated. It was remarkable to be in the presence of brave women who shared their stories and brought the experiences of others to life by reciting monologues. I felt empowered and connected to a community of DePaul women, women everywhere and their allies.

The personal monologues from DePaul students were particularly startling. They opened my eyes to the broad range of our female students’ experiences—experiences I wasn’t aware of at my own alma mater as an undergraduate.

One particular monologue revolved around conversations that had floated around campus last year. These “#triggered” conversations were in response to racial tension and insensitivity toward those suffering on campus due to their race, sexual identity or experience with sexual violence. This monologue was a reminder that we could all do better at thinking about the impact that our words and actions can have not only in the DePaul community, but in all communities.

And then there was a monologue that clearly articulated consent—how it is defined and supported at DePaul, and how DePaul continues the conversation on consent on many college campuses today.

Interestingly, after some contextual research on the subject, I learned there have been conflicting perspectives regarding these performances. Mostly, that the language used and voices represented were too narrow by focusing heavily on a white, middle-class female experience. Arguably, the platform has grown to include the voices of women with diverse backgrounds and varying identities, including transwomen.

One transwoman DePaul student, who had recently passed away, was unable to share her story that weekend. But a draft of her monologue was posted near the exit. By acknowledging her voice in this way, it was clear how DePaul values expanding the platform to include more voices and experiences—in a way that the original performance may not have done decades prior. Surely though, it could still grow to be even more inclusive.

I highly recommend attending this play the next time it is available on campus or in your community. Whether it is “The Vagina Monologues” or any other performance activism for a marginalized or oppressed community, all who attend will leave with a broader perspective of society.

If more people’s voices and experiences are heard, society might become more inclusive and understanding.

While the people in the audience may have had different identities or definitions of feminism, may not have had vaginas, may not have experienced sexual violence and oppression, they can still become allies for the community and help continue the conversation that works to eliminate violence and oppression of women.

How will you help continue the conversation?

Jennifer Long is a DWN member at large and an assistant director of development for DePaul’s Richard H. Driehaus College of Business.

DWN Works Up a Sweat at the Ray

By Kris Gallagher

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I’m at that age where the desire to exercise more often conflicts with my desire to not inflame my bad knee. Still, I was intrigued by the free Exercise for Health and Wellness with DWN event at the Ray Meyer Fitness & Recreation Center on Feb. 20. So, I packed up my workout clothes and my bum knee and off I went.

I was happy to see that the two dozen women who joined me were of all ages and athletic abilities. We joked around and encouraged each other as we tried to keep up with the instructors. Thankfully, they told us that is was more important to keep moving than to mimic them exactly. Even better, they told us to scale the intensity of the workout to match the needs of our own bodies.

First up was 20 minutes of Zumba. If you are new to Zumba, it’s a dance-based workout with fairly simple, repetitive motions. In addition to being good exercise, you learn some nifty dance moves. We pumped our arms, wiggled our middles and hopped to the beat of the peppy Latin music. Well, many people hopped. I stepped, keeping the impact on my knee low and still managing to work up a good sweat. I’d forgotten how much fun Zumba is.

The next 20-minute session was a new style of exercise for me: Tabata Blast. The instructor showed us a series of poses that require balance and muscle strength, such as a plank or a deep squat. We’d hold the pose for 20 seconds, take 20 seconds off, and then repeat. Whoa, THAT was a workout! Two days later, my thighs are still screaming. It’s the kind of scream that means calories were burned and muscles were strengthened. I was relieved to hear that regular Tabata Blast classes are just 30 minutes long. I don’t think I could go for an hour!

Finally, an instructor led us through a series of yoga poses that let us stretch and relax and restore our sense of calm. The woman next to me said it was her first time trying yoga and she seemed to be able to do all the poses easily. Yoga is a great way to start exercising if you haven’t been. It helps you loosen up tight muscles and joints, builds your strength and improves your balance. It’s also a mini-meditation session, and most of us can use more of that!

Our workout was jointly sponsored by DWN and DePaul’s Healthy Vin-cent$ Wellness Program. If you are inspired to improve your health, check out the classes held at the Ray and at the newly refurbished gym in the basement of the College of Computing and Digital Media building in the Loop. You can sign up for six-week classes or single sessions as your schedule allows.

Oh, and my knee? It’s just fine. Let’s get fit!

Kris Gallagher is a marketing and communications team member for DWN, and an associate editor in the Office of Advancement at DePaul University.

DWN Night at the DePaul Theatre: “We are Proud to Present a Presentation About the Herero of Namibia…”

By Nadia Alfadel Coloma

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Last night, DWN members got to enjoy a preview of “We are Proud to Present a Presentation About the Herero of Namibia, Formerly Known as South West Africa, From the German Sudwesiafrika, between the years 1884-1915” at DePaul’s Theatre School on the Lincoln Park Campus. Members received complementary tickets to the show as part of DWN’s membership benefits. (Special thanks to Leslie Shook, theatre manager, for providing this opportunity.)

It was a cold Thursday night so I almost didn’t go, but I am so glad that I did. The truth is, it’s hard to break from routine, especially at the end of a work day when all you want to do is go home and get out of your work clothes. But once in a while, it’s good to step out of your usual pattern to enjoy an experience, so that every week is not a mere replica of the one before it.

I had no idea what to expect from this play. I had never heard of it, and the title was certainly unique. I found the description to be a bit vague, too. Please be advised that this show is for mature audiences, the invitation cautioned. I was intrigued. Also, I had never attended a show at DePaul’s Theatre School. The Fullerton Stage is a wonderful space—intimate and inviting, the seating is arranged as a semi-circle around the stage.

I will not give away details about this play so that you can go and experience it for yourself. Because it is an experience, one that shakes the emotions and stretches the mind. It is a play that provokes reflection, elicits strong (uncomfortable) emotion, deep emotion, and most significantly, sparks important dialogue.

By the end, when the lights went out and the actors disappeared from the stage, I was stunned—and so was everyone in the audience. My heart was racing as  silence descended upon the stage. There was a post-show discussion that I stayed for, that almost everyone in the audience stayed for. We clearly all needed to process.

The play follows an ensemble of well-meaning actors who struggle to tell the story of a nearly forgotten African genocide that took place at the turn of the twentieth century. For one, this was new information to me. I had never heard of the Herero tribe and the terrible tragedy they suffered. The ensemble struggles to tell the story of the fate of the Herero because:

How can you tell the story of an oppressed people whose history has never been documented—from their perspective?

History is all facts, dates, figures. We rely on documentation to formulate and understand “what happened” in the past. But who is documenting the past? Whose perspective is narrating “what happened”? And that is the inherent issue the ensemble grapples with.

The people in power (in this case, the German conquerors) were the ones narrating the past. The history of the Herero genocide is thus based on their perspective, a privileged perspective.

When you have only one perspective, one narrative to a history, then that leaves the other side in perpetual oppression because their voices are ultimately never heard. The historical narrative is incomplete, leaving an entire people, in this case, the Herero, literally erased.

The play weaves in and out of present day America and colonial Namibia. It forces you to be a spectator to injustice. It makes you uncomfortable. And it does this because comfort, after all, breeds complacency.

It explores how society constructs systems that oppress one group and uplift another, all because of race and color.

Written by American playwrite Jackie Sibblies Drury, the play was first read at the Victory Gardens Theater in Chicago in April 2012.

This is a bold and powerful play that is especially important considering the context of our current political climate. I highly recommend it, though with the same caution that I received: this play is for mature audiences only. The cast, also, was excellent. I applaud them for delivering such a moving and difficult performance.

I have a newfound appreciation for the Theatre School and will certainly be back to enjoy other shows. (At the very least, I’ll be less likely to brush away the inter-office mail postcards that they send us every so often.) 🙂

“We are Proud to Present a Presentation About the Herero of Namibia, Formerly Known as South West Africa, From the German Sudwesiafrika, between the years 1884-1915” will be playing February 10 through February 19 at the Theatre School. Get your tickets here.

Nadia Alfadel Coloma is the director of marketing and communications for DWN, and a communications and workforce specialist in DePaul’s division of Enrollment Management and Marketing.

DWN Book Club: Parallel Lives Explored in ‘A Teaspoon of Earth and Sea’

By Kris Gallagher

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A Teaspoon of Earth and Sea, by Dina Nayeri, is both a mystery and the story of the evolution of Saba Hafez in 1980s Iran. As a young girl, Saba tries to make sense of the disappearance of her mother and her twin sister, Mahtab. She crafts elaborate tales of Mahtab growing up in America—tales that both parallel and contrast with Saba’s own experiences.

While Saba is the main character of the book, the women who discussed the book in DWN’s Loop campus book club meeting noted that we also heard first-person voices of older women in the village. Some of them are upholding tradition and some of them are pushing for change. All are voices of reality compared to Saba’s dream world. “It’s like sitting in on the village gossip,” said DWN member and book club meeting facilitator Lauren Kriz, who works in Enrollment Management and Marketing.

Lauren noted that the author is herself an Iranian immigrant to the United States. “The author really is Mahtab, writing about what her relatives have experienced in Iran,” she said. Both Teaspoon and Americana, a previous DWN book club selection, explore the “immigrant worries” that people must overcome when they leave their native lands and move to the fabled America.

Saba and her father are Christians living in a Muslim community during increasingly strict enforcement of Islamic codes. One DWN member talked about how the Hafez family had to hide their Christianity and, at times, pretend to be Muslim, which echoed her own experiences living in Saudia Arabia for several years as a child.

“I felt like I lived in a bubble. What you do outside is such a tiny portion of who you are,” she shared. “You have to do what you have to do to survive. You need to protect yourself until you reach the next building.”

The women all discussed how easy is seems to bruise the ego of men in Iran and the dramatic force with which men respond. Even Saba’s father, who loves her dearly, is unable to protect her. Saba depends on several women for advice and protection, but those relationships have their own perils.

In particular, Dr. Zora, a friend of Saba’s mother, becomes both surrogate mother and the bearer of harsh truths, said Heather Smith, an adjunct professor of geography. Saba—and her mirror image Mahtab—become committed to “document the horrors of oppression.” At the end of the book, the mystery of the disappearance of Saba’s mother and sister is resolved—or is it another Iranian “pretty lie?”

Recommendations for future reading:

New York Times Documentary: “Ladies First,” Saudi Arabia’s first Female Candidates

Book: City of Lies: Love, Sex, Death and the Search for Truth in Tehran by Ramita Navai

Kris Gallagher is a marketing and communications team member for the DePaul Women’s Network, and an associate editor in the Office of Advancement at DePaul University.

DWN Book Club: ‘Orphan Train’ Explores Identity and the Things We Carry

By Kris Gallagher

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Orphan Train, by Christina Baker Kline, explores the parallel stories of Molly, a present-day teenager ricocheting through the foster home system, and Vivian, who was put aboard an orphan train bound for Minnesota in 1929.  Members of the DePaul Women’s Network discussed the spring book selection at the Loop and Lincoln Park campuses May 18 and 19.

Only two of the 12 women in the Loop, both history majors, had ever heard of orphan trains before reading the book. Between 1854 and 1929, about 250,000 orphaned, abandoned and homeless children on the East Coast were put on trains heading west. People in rural areas would wait at the train depots and choose children, sometimes to adopt, but most often for labor.

One of those children was Vivian, now 91. She meets Molly when the teen agrees to help Vivian clean her attic to fulfill Molly’s community service hours. As the boxes are opened, their stories unfold.

The participants explored the many parallels in the book. Both Molly and Vivian struggle to shape their own identities as they are shuttled from household to household. Both avoided intimate relationships, sure that those they cared for would soon be torn away from them. Both were adept at letting go of their pasts to survive. At the same time, both carried talismans with them—a Claddagh necklace, cheap pewter charms, an old mustard coat–even though the memories they evoked were painful.

“They didn’t have people who were witnesses to their lives, so they used things,” one participant said. “The things were proofs that they survived.”

Both girls were born into dysfunctional families. They were put into the system of the time to get to more stable circumstances. They found themselves placed, again and again, in households that saw them as labor, not as children. Many of the adult women saw the teenage girls as competition for their husbands’ affection. Many of the men were a little too friendly, and one was a predator.

Vivian finally found a champion who helped her establish a quiet, stable life.  Would Vivian become that champion for Molly? Everyone in the Loop wanted to know what would happen next.  (We won’t find out, but read about a 99-year-old woman who just met the daughter she gave up for adoption in 1933.)

“I’ve come to think that’s what heaven is—a place in the memory of others where our best selves live on.” – Vivian

Kris Gallagher is a member of DWN’s Marketing and Communication team and an internal consultant in University Marketing Communications.

Learn, Network, Grow – Join DWN in 2016-2017

By Jennifer Roop

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In spring 2012, after nearly two years of working at DePaul, I found myself at a crossroads. I was about to finish my master’s program, which had been keeping me busy and helping me feel more connected to the university. I decided to devote my newfound time to DePaul in a different way, by joining the DePaul Women’s Network (DWN). Now, four years later, I’m still happy to be involved in DWN and I want to encourage other DePaul women to join the Network for our coming service year.

My Journey with DWN

I had been seeing emails from DWN about opportunities, so I decided to apply to a position where I could use my writing and editing skills. I started as a communications co-chair and moved into a director role the next year when we shifted to the structure in place today. My time heading a DWN team helped me gain leadership skills, which helped me grow professionally and move up to a manager position in a new department.

I have met so many different, interesting women through the Network. Each year our recruitment push brings in new faces and ideas that make me energized for what lies ahead. That excitement has inspired me to step up my commitment each successive year. Now, heading into DWN’s 2016-17 service year as president, I’m looking forward to a whole new set of challenges and even more growth.

How DWN Can Help You

Everyone’s experience with DWN is different and can inspire growth on both a personal and professional level. You may want to join to:

  • Learn new skills. Is your regular job in accounting or administration but you want to learn about event planning? Join the Programming team! Would you like to gain managerial skills but you don’t oversee anyone at DePaul? Apply to be a director!
  • Meet women from across the university. While DWN has programs focused on personal and professional development, there is also a fun, social aspect. Being on a team is a great way to connect with women from various departments and roles.
  • Feel more connected to DePaul. DWN members get to plan events that bring the DePaul community together, from faculty forums to our yearly Women of Spirit and Action Awards and High Tea with Saint Louise. As an Employee Resource Group, DWN also works with other groups on university initiatives such as the Diversity and Inclusion Forum.

How You Can Get Started

Once you’re ready to share your time and talents with DWN, applying is easy. All staff and faculty women at DePaul are welcome, whether you’re full- or part-time staff or faculty. You can learn about all of the ways to participate by reviewing our practice areas and positions below.

  • Team Member: You can join as a team member within 1 of 5 areas: Operations, Membership & Engagement, Service & Outreach, Programming, and Marketing & Communications.
  • Director: One director leads each practice area, and all directors meet together monthly to discuss DWN’s overall direction. This year there are open director spots for Operations, Membership & Engagement and Service & Outreach.
  • M@L: If you want to learn about DWN with a lower time commitment, a Member-at-Large position might be for you. Stay tuned, as this option will have a separate sign-up process in fall 2016.

This year, it’s easier than ever to apply: Just fill out the online application, which takes less than 10 minutes. Unlike last year, you don’t need to include a resume or your supervisor’s email (though you should discuss your DWN involvement with them). We want to make joining DWN as easy as possible.

What’s Next?

DWN has grown through the years and is still expanding. I invite you to join and see how the Network can help you learn, network and grow. And if you know a woman in your department or your circle of friends at DePaul who would be interested, please encourage her to join as well! DWN grows most by word of mouth.

DWN recruitment is open until Friday, April 1. Click here to apply now!

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Jennifer Roop is the incoming DWN president and the Marketing & Communications Manager in the Department of Housing Services at DePaul.

Millennial Women: A Force to be Reckoned with

By Laura Durnell

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In 1997 she entered the world.

In 2009 she began writing an anonymous blog advocating education as a right for all children.

In 2011 her home country awarded her with its First National Peace Prize.

In 2012 when she was 15, she was shot on her bus ride home from school simply because of her beliefs.

In 2013 she co-founded a foundation to increase awareness for the importance of girls’ education.

In 2014 at the age of 17, she became the youngest recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize.

In 2015 she called herself a feminist as well as an education activist.

Her name is Malala Yousafzai, and she is a millennial.

In May of 2013, Time magazine devoted its cover story to the millennial generation entitled The Me, Me, Me Generation.  It listed some attributes that I am sure you have heard and read about:  spoiled, disrespectful, entitled, impatient, shallow, lazy, aliterate, narcissistic, sheltered, arrogant.

I have taught first year writing far longer than I would like to admit.  During this time, I have educated students ranging from the Greatest Generation to those still in high school working toward advanced college credit.  While I do admit I have taught my share of stereotypical millennials, I am please to say that stereotype has not been the norm.  I also know the stereotype is not unique to them. In Ancient Greece, Socrates said, “The children now love luxury.  They have bad manners, contempt for authority, they show disrespect for elders and love chatter in the place of exercise.”

Every generation has faced some sort of criticism, and people have declared that the current generation coming of age will be the end of civilization.  However, that negates the accomplishments and power each generation achieves.  With this being women’s history month, I want to address two famous millennial women as well as those under the radar who take leadership roles and challenge the status quo.

In addition to the now eighteen-year-old Malala Yousafzai, twenty-five-year-old actress Emma Watson has emerged as a gender activist.  In 2014 she became the United Nations Women Global Goodwill Ambassador and heads the HeForShe Campaign.  With her hair pulled back and wearing an elegant white dress secured with a silver belt, the HeForShe Campaign button secured to her left lapel, Watson looked more confident and determined than admittedly nervous when she delivered her amazing 2014 speech to the UN.  That speech was broadcasted by CNN and later went viral.  I have even shown it in my WRD 104 class as an example of rhetoric, language, audience, cited evidence, and argumentation.

Since her speech, Watson continues to advocate gender equality for men and women.  Better yet, she extends a hand to men to work as allies in breaking gender expectations.  In person and online, she works to raise awareness and opportunities for equal pay, women’s education, women’s health, and women’s political participation and contribution.  In February, she told Paper magazine, where she was featured alongside feminist and writing legend bell hooks, she planned to take a year off from acting to concentrate on feminism, activism, and personal development.

Watson is also the person who led Yousafzai to call herself a feminist.  Before the premiere of her documentary He Named Me Malala, Watson interviewed Yousafzai who told her:

It has been a tricky word. When I heard it the first time, I heard some negative responses and some positive ones. I hesitated in saying am I feminist or not?

Then after hearing your speech I decided there’s no way and there’s nothing wrong by calling yourself a feminist. So I’m a feminist, and we all should be a feminist because feminism is another word for equality.

Out of the spotlight, I see the same drive and confidence in the writing and research done by several of my female millennial students.  This quarter alone, several are writing their argumentative-research essays on contemporary topics relevant to women.  One student argues how even in 2016, “toxic masculinity” continues to prevent women from advancing in basic human rights while stripping their existing rights.  Another student argues how school dress codes unfairly focus on female students and even “slut shames” them, which in the end advances the rape culture.  And another student argues that the Texas law “protecting” women’s health, which the United States Supreme Court just finished hearing arguments for and against, in reality damages women’s health by limiting and ultimately shutting off access to abortion providers and services.

Last year one of my Muslim students in my Erica Jong focal point seminar focused her final essay on Islamic feminism and argued that Islamic feminism provides women more rights and dignity than Western white feminism.  And several years before my Erica Jong Focal Point liberal arts seminar, one of my female African American students argued that black women served as the true power behind the abolition of slavery and the Civil Rights Movement in the mid-twentieth century.

As the General Election arrives this November, the one demographic that should not be dismissed are millennials—especially millennial women.  They are the fourth wave of feminism.  Even though I am a cynical and snarky Gen Xer from the third wave, millennial women make me hopeful for the future of not only women but the world.

Laura Durnell is a member of DWN’s Marketing and Communication team and a part-time faculty member in the Department of Writing, Rhetoric, and Discourse at DePaul University. Along with first year writing, she also teaches a focal point on Anne Sexton and will teach another one in the spring entitled “Women’s Confessions.” She tutors at Wilbur Wright College in addition to her teaching at DePaul and has recently published an essay in Trivia: Voices of Feminism entitled “The Social, Cultural, and Political Necessity of Anne Sexton.”