If the word “vagina” scares you, the 2015 Vagina Project may be the most important event you attend at Dixie State University this year.
The Vagina Project was organized for the first time last year to raise awareness for women’s issues through a variety of lenses. Due to last year’s huge success, the 2015 Vagina Project’s events will span the course of three nights: today through Friday.
Dannelle Larsen-Rife, social and behavioral sciences department chair and an assistant professor of psychology, said the nature of her classes have caused many students to approach her with questions about sexuality. She said there is a hunger for this information on campus.
“Female faculty, students and staff are being harassed and objectified on a daily basis,” Larsen-Rife said. “These issues are very real and relevant on this campus. I hear from students all the time about how these things have impacted their lives.”
Although these issues aren’t necessarily exclusively problems for women, Larsen-Rife said Utah has a higher than average rate of sexual violence against women. However, she said the Vagina Project is for everybody.
Feedback from attendees last year revealed there is a yearning for more discussion. To feed this need, this year’s Vagina Project will offer workshops and open discussions in addition to the Vagina Monologues, art exhibition, theater and music performances and an improv dance performance. Some of the discussion topics will be about healthy relationships, female anatomy and women in criminal justice. There is also a website where students can post their secrets to be shared anonymously.
Nancy Ross, an assistant professor of art history, helped Larsen-Rife found the Vagina Project last year, and this year she’s organizing the art exhibition. Ross said women’s issues in Utah need to be addressed.
“I think being a woman in southern Utah is very difficult,” she said. “I know not everybody experiences that difficulty, and that’s certainly fair to say, but Utah was just recently named to be the worst state in the union for women.”
Ross said she feels like the culture of womanhood is taboo in the DSU community, and she was surprised last year’s turn out was so high.
You can’t address a problem until it’s out in the open, Ross said.
“I’m Mormon, and I’m very active in [The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints],” Ross said. “On my way in (to the event last year), I saw a woman there who belongs to my ward, and I’m sure her family didn’t know she was there. I think she was there because there was something for her that she wasn’t getting elsewhere.”
Larsen-Rife said one of the more exciting parts of the Vagina Project is the involvement of people from across many different departments on campus.
“Men and women on campus are aware there is a problem and they want to be a part of the solution,” Larsen-Rife said. “Seeing my colleagues — students included — want to be involved is really exciting.”
The culture of womanhood needs to be bigger than what it is now, Ross said.
“It’s not like nobody in southern Utah wants to talk about women’s issues, and we’re just trying to force this idea onto people that there are problems, but rather, that there are problems and we need to give voice to those problems,” she said.