Students and faculty members think it’s about time to enable discussions that include words like “vagina” without vulgar or shameful undertones.
Dixie State University will be hosting The Vagina Project for the first time ever, which is a presentation of research, artwork and readings that represent attitudes and experiences of women’s bodies. It will take place Tuesday at 7 p.m. in the Holland Centennial Commons’ Zion Room.
Christina Duncan, a sociology instructor, and Nancy Ross, an adjunct art instructor, have collaborated to organize DSU’s first Vagina Project, and they said the aim of the project is to create a safe space in which students and community members can discuss bodies and gender that is supportive, informative and enriching.
“My hope is that [The Vagina Project] starts a healthy discussion about people’s experiences and their relationships with their bodies,” Duncan said.
Ross and Duncan said they’ve recognized a desire from their students to discuss gender, sexuality and bodies.
“I can see that people want to talk about it,” Ross said. “They want a place to process ideas about gender and sexuality, and I’ve seen a lot of students express this need. While these are topics that are kind of taboo, I think this is going to be a good opportunity to hear other people’s experiences, have conversations with other people who want to have conversations about these issues, and to have support in this conversation.”
Along with a presentation of research that studies attitudes toward women’s bodies in southern Utah and readings that express community members’ experiences, Ross said The Vagina Project will also display a nationally-recognized photography project by Salt Lake City photographer Katrina Anderson.
Anderson’s exhibit, “Mormon Women Bare,” made national headlines last year after she captured nude photos of Mormon women with the intention to “empower women to reclaim (their) bodies,” Anderson stated on her website.
“By showing women’s bodies as natural, normal and diverse, I feel we can help combat the shame many women feel about (their) bodies,” Anderson also stated. “When we see that most of the women around us are imperfect and yet so full of beauty, courage and light, we begin to have more compassion for ourselves.”
The Vagina Project is meant to create an appropriate space in the community for people to discuss their experiences with their bodies with support instead of facing negative reactions from community members, Ross said.
“We hope that The Vagina Project is the beginning of a community conversation about women’s bodies that validates (and) celebrates women’s bodies and also lends support to women who have had negative experiences with their bodies,” Ross said.
However, in attempting to spread the word about The Vagina Project, Ross said organizers have experienced some negative reactions, as some people either removed the Dean-of–Students-approved posters from notice boards around campus or refused to post them altogether.
Ross said she recognizes the difficulty of stirring discussions of such sensitive topics. However, with the project’s title, she and others are aiming to combat the attitude that technical terms for women’s body parts, like “vagina,” shouldn’t be so taboo that people can’t even talk about them.
“It shouldn’t be such a hard thing, but it is such a hard thing,” Ross said. “Even with just the title we’re pressing people to be comfortable with that word. I think it’s important for women in our community to own that word in a positive way and know that it’s not dirty, gross or bad — it’s normal and healthy.”
Visit The Vagina Project’s Facebook page for more information.