Three students who were ordered suspended after saying the word “vagina” while reading from a play at a high-school event say they were only trying to take a stand against censorship.
"Our main point is that ‘vagina’ isn't a word that should be censored from young children ... It's an important word. It's a part of the body," said Megan Reback, 16.
Reback and fellow juniors Elan Stahl and Hannah Levinson, also 16, were given a one-day suspension by their principal at John Jay High School in Cross River, N.Y., after their reading of a stanza from "The Vagina Monologues" at a school “open mike” night last week.
The three girls discussed the resulting controversy during an appearance Friday on TODAY. They were joined by school board President Peter Breslin, representing the Katonah-Lewisboro school district, and Eve Ensler, author of the award-winning play.
“The Vagina Monologues” is made up of a series of monologues about women and their their experiences of sexuality. It has been performed around the world since first being staged off-Broadway as a one-woman show performed by Ensler in 1996.
The excerpt that got the girls in trouble, which they repeated on TODAY, reads: "My short skirt is a liberation flag in the women's army. I declare these streets, any streets, my vagina's country."
Principal Richard Leprine has said the suspensions, which are being reviewed, stemmed from the girls' insubordination, not from their use of the word itself. He said the girls broke a promise not to include the word in their reading.
"They just said the stanza wasn't appropriate to say at an event that was open to the community," Reback told TODAY host Meredith Vieira. "In reality, it was only 9th-grade students through 12th-grade students, and parents who were there. There weren't any young children."
Stahl said she and her two classmates felt it would be inappropriate to read the passage without the “V word.” “It really upheld the message of the monologue, the moral integrity of the piece of literature, and better represented women across the world,” she said.
The suspensions are on hold while the school district superintendent reviews the matter, and the girls are hopeful they will be reversed.
'Stood up for what they believe'
Breslin, the school board president, said the episode highlights a need for a closer examination of school policy — especially considering another student wasn’t challenged for using the “F word” during his reading the same night.
The principal had a difficult decision to make and was doing what we felt was right at the time, Breslin said.
"Principals make these kinds of calls all the time. Educators in every school in America say, 'Should this book be read by these students? Should this film be shown in class? Should this passage be read at this event?' " Breslin said. "It's difficult because sometimes they are very difficult calls, and that's what our principal [had] in this case."
Breslin added, "Honestly, I have no problem with the word 'vagina.' I've heard it more in the last four days than I have to this point in my life, and that's fine .... I admire what they did. They stood up for what they believe and I have no problem with that."
Ensler said she is disappointed but not surprised that the girls got in trouble for using the word.
"I love these girls. I was not shocked that the school resisted saying the word," Ensler said. "We are still living in a world where people are terrified of the word vagina. It's a body part ... The fact that we still live in a world where that creates such controversy is disturbing to me."
— John Springer, TODAYSHOW.com contributor