Performance explores identity and the desire to be known
Each Notre Dame student has a unique background, story, and identity. A recent student performance, Notre Dame: Unfiltered, sought to give voice to those unique stories. Unfiltered was intended as a precursor to the spring showing of Show Some Skin, a student performance of anonymously submitted monologues from Notre Dame, Holy Cross, and St. Mary’s students, as well as high schoolers and prisoners. A variety of organizations, including Student Government, Show Some Skin, the Gender Relations Center, Multicultural Students Programs and Services, the Office of Student Enrichment, the Office of Merit Scholarships, and PrismND, sponsored the event.
The event flyer stated: “The mission of Notre Dame: Unfiltered is to recognize the dignity of every human person and engage in a dialogue about subjects which affect students every day, encouraging understanding and solidarity across lines of division.”
The event was held in the LaFortune Ballroom and attendees were seated at tables to allow discussions after each series of monologues. Divided into thirty-minute segments, the show featured the performance of 2-4 monologues from previous performances of Show Some Skin, followed by a discussion led by a student involved in one of the clubs sponsoring the event, and finally a panel discussion where leaders from each table presented what their table discussed and answered any anonymously submitted questions. Almost every chair was filled and participants engaged in lively discussions.
Monologues covered a range of topics, from eating disorders and LGBTQ identity to the experience of minorities and those under financial hardship to topics as grave as being a victim of sexual assault. One monologue, written by a victim of rape, asserted the right of women to obtain abortions, while another argued against the perception that being a “social justice Catholic” included being pro-choice. “Social justice has to be pro-life. Because being pro life means fighting for social justice,” asserted the speaker. Several monologues grappled with the pain of sexual assault and the often associated denial, “If he was nice and funny when he was sober, there’s no way he could have raped me, right?” doubtfully queried one speaker, torn over facing the reality of being a victim of rape.
Discussion questions addressed general questions about campus culture, such as whether or not Notre Dame is a welcoming place, and whether or not it is possible to have organic conversations about difficult topics. Following the discussions at each table, the panels responded to questions pertaining to topics such as, “how can you be an active ally for LGBTQ issues or sexual violence if you are a man?” and “how can we support students who are struggling with mental health?”
The show raised questions about how issues such as race, sexual orientation, and poverty are treated on campus. One of the points raised was how students who could most benefit from these kinds of discussions are often the ones who do not attend these kinds of events. “Notre Dame provides these resources where [we have] great conversations, great discussions about issues within Notre Dame. But because they are optional, only students that come are really interested in it [sic] and the students who need it the most do not come,” said one of the Diversity Council representatives during a panel discussion.
A running theme throughout the monologues, especially those dealing with racial or sexual identity, was the concept of self-assertion and normalizing of identity. In one monologue, the author, who identifies as a transgender man, stated, “I’m not a burden or a mistake. Actually, I’m just a human being,” expressing the author’s assertion of inherent human dignity, which should be recognized regardless of appearance.
A running debate in recent years has been how Notre Dame should reconcile its Catholic identity with supporting students who disagree with the Church’s teachings or identify as LGBTQ. Although some would [disagree] with providing a platform for LGBTQ and pro-choice voices, Unfiltered provided viewpoints from both sides, taking no stance on issues other than to listen to and respect the writers of each monologue. Unfiltered certainly provided a space where diverse voices could be heard, allowing the participants to see the world through the eyes of someone that they did not necessarily agree with. Regardless of where one stands on contested social issues, listening to others, empathizing with them, and affirming their inherent dignity are all activities that the Church promotes, regardless of that person’s identity.
However, it is also true that the Church has a vast repository of resources for those who struggle with sexual identity, discrimination, or sexual assault. Although it is understandable that the show’s producers, sensitive to the diverse backgrounds of attendees, would want to skirt around promoting explicitly Catholic resources, it is also true that Notre Dame is a Catholic university. As a Catholic University, Notre Dame claims to be committed to the belief that the Church holds the fullness of truth about the path to happiness, peace, and joy for each individual, regardless of their unique background or struggles. Notre Dame: Unfiltered provided a valuable forum for a variety of voices to be heard; the challenge now posed is how to best support each of the individuals behind those voices.
Teresa is a senior studying Biology and Philosophy. She spends her spare time with the Women’s Boxing Club volunteering to be punched in the face to raise money for the Holy Cross Missions in Uganda. If you would like to donate to her efforts, please email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.