Penn’s Panhellenic Council made sorority attendance of The Vagina Monologues non-mandatory this spring, a break from previous years. But the Interfraternity Council required fraternities to send at least 10 members to the event for the first time.
Panhellenic still purchased tickets to the event and offered them at no cost to sorority members.
The change in Panhellenic’s policy was part of College junior and Panhellenic Council President Caroline Ohlson’s initiative to reduce the total number of events at which sorority members are required to be in attendance, due to what she called “past resistance.” Instead, she and the other Panhellenic Executive Board members went to a chapter meeting at each sorority at the beginning of the semester to educate members about upcoming events and initiatives like Penn’s V-Day College Campaign.
“For especially something like the Vagina Monologues that does cover a lot of sensitive and potentially triggering topics, I felt that it was counterproductive to mandate women to go,” Ohlson said. “I also thought that it was a show that a lot of people would be interested in seeing on their own, so I wanted to make sure that we were able to support the show ... and promote the event, but not require people to go.”
More than 200 fraternity members and 250 sorority members attended the show, which features monologues related to sexuality and sexual violence.
“This year especially, sexual assault, as always, is a major issue,” said Nico deLuna, a Wharton junior and IFC Vice President of Recruitment and New Member Education. “We felt that the Vagina Monologues were a really good opportunity to expose new members to viewpoints and stigmas and issues that, as guys, we never really would have the chance to see otherwise.”
Ohlson, who is also on the executive board of Abuse and Sexual Assault Prevention and a member of Penn Anti-Violence Educators, added that the Panhellenic Council has a long-time relationship with the V-Day movement. It buys tickets for the Vagina Monologues every year as a way to support V-day’s beneficiary, Women Organized Against Rape, Philadelphia’s only rape crisis center. Panhellenic contributed $3,500 to the center through sales this year.
College senior and member of both V-Day and Sigma Delta Tau sorority Emily Fisher performed in this year’s Vagina Monologues production after seeing the show the year before as a new sorority member, as required by the Panhellenic Council.
“I was really affected by the call to rise at the end [of the show],” Fisher said, referring to a moment where on-stage performers ask the audience to stand up if they have experienced sexual assault, or know someone who has. “I stood up because I am a survivor and I was really shocked and horrified by how many people stood up.”
Fisher recalls that another new sorority member told her the call to rise made her feel “less isolated.”
“[She] told me that she was also a survivor and that she didn’t feel comfortable standing when I stood during the initial call,” Fisher said. “It just proves that when you actually talk about these things and when you shine a light ... instead of trying to sweep them under the rug it can be really powerful for a lot of people and helpful for people who are struggling.”
Fisher expressed sadness that Penhellenic was “taking steps back” from supporting the event at what she called a “critical time” for the V-Day movement.
“Before very recently, the cast and community of The Vagina Monologues was dominated by primarily white sorority girls,” Fisher said. “And only within the last few years have there been deliberate attempts to diversify the movement.”
However, Ohlson noted that Panhellenic was able to make a greater financial contribution to V-Day this year through the purchasing of tickets for sorority members, and that changing the mandatory status of the event “in no way was lessening our support for the [V-Day] movement.”
The IFC’s attendance requirement this year was not related to Panhellenic’s change in policy, deLuna said.
Wesley Spencer, a College freshman and new member of Psi Upsilon, also known as Castle, attended the Vagina Monologues along with 11 other fraternity brothers, most of them also new members. Like Fisher, his lasting impression of the event also came from the program’s call to rise, when his estimate of “50 percent of the room” stood up as either a survivor of sexual assault or a friend of one.
Spencer, an international student from the Netherlands, said the show made him more aware of sexual education and attitudes regarding sex and sexuality in the United States.
“After the Vagina Monologues, I looked into the required sex ed here in the US, and I was shocked,” Spencer said.
Both Spencer and Fisher emphasized the importance of sexual education in the greek community.
“It’s not really any secret that on American college campuses that a lot of the sexual violence that occurs happens to individuals within the greek community,” Fisher said. “Greek life is a large part of the community and social scene [at Penn] so I think that if changes are made within that culture, that that could have shockwaves.”