Vagina Monologues at CUMC: Campus Unites for a Poignant and Profitable Production

Becky Fein, MPH ‘12 in the Heilbrunn Department of Population and Family Health

While there is certainly no shortage of opportunities here at Mailman and Columbia University Medical Center (CUMC) to hear about sexuality and sexual health in an academic or research-oriented context, there is only one time of the year on campus that students, professors, and affiliates take to the stage to discuss what their vaginas would say if they could speak, what they would wear if they got dressed, and to demonstrate the dynamic sounds of sexual climax in the hallowed halls of Alumni Auditorium.

Last month was the 2nd annual performance of the Vagina Monologues at CUMC that I had the honor of directing and producing alongside a phenomenal team of students.  If you have not experienced the pleasure of this thought-provoking, intense, and sometimes raucous series of interviews compiled by playwright and activist Eve Ensler, I cannot recommend it highly enough. The Vagina Monologues are part of a grassroots movement working to raise awareness and bring an end to sexual violence around the world.  The show covers a wide breadth of topics encompassing the pleasure of womanhood and sexuality and the dangers that sometimes accompany it.

Becky Fein after the show (Photo: Annie Tiberio Cameron)

Our cast and crew in the last two years have represented every school at CUMC: Public Health, Nursing, Physicians & Surgeons, and Dentistry.  For about 10 weeks, this group of 50 or so cast members, musicians, stage crew, and volunteers found common ground and a basis for bonding.  I found this production to be a unique opportunity to collaborate with these different schools that exist side-by-side on West 168th Street.

Eve Ensler’s compilation of monologues is particularly poignant in the context of CUMC. The themes that we, the students, faculty, and staff constantly come across in our professional and academic lives are threaded through the show.  For example, there is one monologue that describes the birth of a baby that is performed by a student who has indeed delivered babies. The real-life experience that she brings to the stage gives her piece genuine wisdom and depth.  Another monologue, which describes rape being used as a tactic of war in the Democratic Republic of Congo, is performed by an activist who has worked in the DRC against these atrocities.

I found the themes expressed in the monologues feel ever more relevant in the face of mounting adversity in the realm of women’s reproductive freedoms and autonomy. The Vagina Monologues at CUMC bring to the forefront the key question of how we, as professionals in different, yet inherently interwoven fields, work together to solve these health and human rights issues around the world.  Just as we worked together to create and perform a show that shines a light on a shadowed issue, we can work to expand the mindset of passion and collaboration that brought us together on stage into our professional work

We are proud to say that our production raised over to $11,000 for VDay—Eve Ensler’s organization to end violence against women, and DOVE (Domestic & Other Violent Emergencies), a nonprofit at NewYork-Presbyterian.

The Cast (Photo: Jenny Tiberio, MPH candidate in the Department of Population and Family Health, Global Health Track)

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