Planned porn event stirs controversy
Amelia Thomson-DeVeaux ’11, president of LeTS, said in a statement that the event would primarily consist of remarks by feminist pornographer Tristan Taormino and would include “a brief showing of various film clips.”
Last week, after the USG Senate approved $1,500 to fund the event, the Anscombe Society set up an online petition and hung posters around campus in protest.
“Having two people discuss their competing opinions on pornography is part of the critical discourse that the University is intended to foster,” Shivani Radhakrishnan ’11, president of the Anscombe Society, said in an e-mail. “It would be interesting to have a conversation about whether or not pornography can be truly ‘empowering,’ with two competing voices providing their takes, but this isn’t what is happening and this isn’t what we find problematic. So long as pornography is screened, there are reasons to take issue with the Taormino lecture.” Radhakrishnan is also a member of The Daily Princetonian Editorial Board.
The petition is addressed to President Tilghman, Vice President for Campus Life Janet Dickerson, Dean of Undergraduate Students Kathleen Deignan and Associate Dean of Undergraduate Students Thomas Dunne. On Tuesday evening, the petition had 240 signatures.
Radhakrishnan was also one of six female student leaders who signed a letter to President Tilghman expressing concern over the University’s funding of the event. Before being submitted, the letter was circulated and signed by an additional 51 students.
The letter acknowledged the importance of the discussion but objected to “gratuitous” film clips that its authors said would “damage the conversation by turning away those who would have come if not for the inclusion of actual pornography footage.”
Thomson-DeVeaux said that the idea for the lecture was inspired by a LeTS campaign from the fall semester, in which students responded anonymously to open-ended questions about sex on papers that were posted in bathroom stalls. Pornography, she said, sparked “a lively conversation.”
“It was clearly a subject about which Princeton students had a diverse range of opinions, and something that they wanted to talk about,” she said. “We decided to give them a space to air their thoughts.”
Thomson-DeVeaux noted that Taormino will use her lecture to engage the question “Can we really create sex-positive, empowering pornography?”
“Taormino believes her pornography is radically different from the mainstream kind that most students will have encountered,” Thomson-DeVeaux said, adding, “I would be shocked if Princeton students didn’t embrace this as an opportunity for honest academic discussion.”
Students had mixed reactions to the planned event.
Colby Pines ’13, who signed the Anscombe Society’s petition against the event, said in an e-mail that funding the event was wasteful.
“During a period of economic hardship, why should we spend any money on something that has absolutely no redeeming social, intellectual or spiritual value?” he asked. “Princeton is still recovering from losing a significant chunk of its endowment during the slump, and tuition costs are on the rise. In light of this fact, I don’t feel that it is in any way appropriate to be spending money on porn.”
Liz Rosen ’10, who is pursuing a certificate in women and gender studies, said in an e-mail that she was not “philosophically opposed” to the event.
“The event seems geared towards taking a critical, academic approach to pornography,” she explained. “I’m an anthropology major, so have seen in my studies at Princeton that nearly everything that humans create, do or say can be informative and enlightening.”
A lecture exploring “the damaging and oppressive aspects of pornography” will precede the April lecture, Thomson-DeVeaux said.
She noted that the two lectures were meant to express divergent opinions.
“We hope that students, faculty, and staff will make an effort to attend both events, as we intend for the two to be in conversation with each other,” she said.
Jenna McCarthy contributed reporting.
Correction: An earlier verison of this article did not state that 51 additional female students signed the letter of protest to President Tilghman after it was more widely circulated.