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Response to Jared Cohon's email concerning Anti-Gravity Downhill Derby

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An open letter to President Cohon and others concerned:

Let me start by explaining something about myself. I have PCOS, or poly-cystic ovarian syndrome. The syndrome results in a low level of estrogen being produced by my body, making me skip my period, feel ill, gain weight, and suffer from bad mood swings. Around one in 10 women are affected by this syndrome. It is precancerous, if left untreated. Guess what the treatment is?

It’s birth control.

In the past and present, the institution of the Roman Catholic Church (not that I DO NOT say Catholicism) has been responsible for attempting to limit women’s access to birth control, whether they use it for this reason or for others. Condoms have been similarly stigmatized. This causes many women to face risks that will never be present for men, including myself. So, yes, I do have a stake in this conversation, the one that the girl on campus — who will hopefully remain unnamed — started during the Anti-Gravity Derby during Carnival.

University of Michigan professor Mrinalini Sinha wrote that "Women … are conspicuous in nationalist discourses as symbols of national culture and, through the control of women's sexuality, as the markers of community boundaries" in Feminist Theory Reader.

For the institution of the Roman Catholic Church, this is most certainly the case. It fears that by allowing women freedom of expression of their sexuality, the whole of civilized society will suddenly succumb to sin and immorality.

I understand the concern — I do. But that concern has no place on a private college campus at an event where nudity is typical and in criticism of a piece of performance art that was likely sanctioned by the school itself.

Ultimately, the piece was a criticism not of Pope Francis, but of the institution of “the pope” as it stands today. This is all aside from the allegations of child abuse the church has faced in the past and present.

By allowing us to begin this conversation on campus — where the institution of the church belongs — the nameless girl has done her job, even if it was done by offending a bishop.

I truly believe that Catholicism can be a force for good in this world. It acts as a guiding force for many people and as a source of hope for many more. My problem lies with the institution and the control it holds over the lives of non-Catholics in addition to Catholics. The fact that this girl — and I, in my turn — has received violent hate speech and her status at Carnegie Mellon is in question is evidence of the unreasonable sway it has over the public.

When I was spoken to by CBS a few days ago, I only knew a little of the events leading up to the bishop’s complaint.

I was approached by the reporter, Andy Sheehan, who asked me if I knew about the derby and my name before pointing the camera in my face. I answered his question of what my opinion was — “didn’t harm anyone” — and then uncomfortably edged away. He asked me to spell my name for him and I refused. “I’m not comfortable with this.” He repeated the question before I just said, “No” and left in a hurry with a friend at my side. He used the interview anyway, without my consent.

The interview was conducted badly and unethically, and not once during our short conversation did Mr. Sheehan ask for any information concerning the context of the event. He wouldn’t know that nudity is standard fare at Derby, or that her piece was likely for a school project. Least of all did he know that the message of the piece concerned the freedom of women’s bodies and was not simply trying to offend Catholics.

Was the piece meant to be offensive? Probably. I haven’t spoken to the girl, and I don’t know if I will. But, as I said, at least the offensiveness has brought an issue of freedom to the forefront of our community’s mind.

That Carnegie Mellon would offer an apology for supporting creative examination of societal issues — and barely even talk about the other events this year — is an affront to the student body. It increasingly seems to me as though the administration cares far more about image than about its student body.

The riots in 2009 and my friend’s suicide this year — in addition to Beta’s sexual allegations and scandal regarding the possible filming of sex with a minor, where the distribution of that material barely blipped on the administration's radar — and now this?

A girl does not deserve to be persecuted for speaking her mind, especially in a forum that is explicitly educational. Carnegie Mellon should be a place for us to experiment in our art. Yes, the parade was open to the public. Yes, nudity is expected. So doesn’t that make it the administration's responsibility to censor the projects before they are preformed?

I’m not a fan of censorship, as you might guess, but you cannot blame the student for reflecting badly on her institution when the institution is so little involved in the events.