Dye sounds off on lesbian punks; students outraged
Students spoke, listened, argued, laughed and grimaced during their opportunity to talk with President Nancy Dye about recent censorship and decency concerns raised by her response to lesbian punk band Tribe 8’s October concert.
Dye answered students’ concerns about her comments characterizing the performance as “over the line” and not protected as art. The discussion centered on the definition of art, the relevance of a performance’s context, academic freedom and Dye’s power.
Dye reiterated that her concern was raised after reading the review of the concert in the Review. She said that the particular mixture of a topless lead singer wearing a rubber dildo and wielding a knight, while a roadie performed simulated fellatio on the dildo seemed to her to be celebratory of sexual violence.
The meeting was attended mainly by students who had been at earlier meetings throughout the debate and student mobilization. Dean of Student Life and Services Charlene Cole-Newkirk and Associate Dean Joe DiChristina were present, as were Associate Professor of African American Studies Booker Peek and Professor of Theater Roger Copeland.
The debate centered around the division between complete freedom of expression and the protection of community standards of inclusion and respect.
“There is a certain liberal conceit in the concept of free speech,” Dye said. She said that one aspect of postmodern thought that she does subscribe to is the idea that discourse in society will be dominated in some ways by the norms of society. “I think Oberlin’s discourse is dominated,” she said. “Our norms and discourse are not as free as they should be. She supported her argument by citing the silence she perceives from certain communities such as the evangelical Christian community at Oberlin.
This question became more concrete when students and Dye debated whether the ’Sco serves as a performance space or a community space. Dye said that she sees the ’Sco as a public space. “We do set aside space where art can be as free as it wants to be,” Dye said alluding to the art museum specifically.
Senior Noga La’or said that she sees the art museum, being both free and open to the public, as more of a public space than the ’Sco. She also said, “I guess that unlike you and other administrators on campus I do believe music is a form of art.”
“I’d like to take the geography out of the definition of art,” junior Chapin Benninghoff said. He said that by limiting artistic expression to specific, traditional spaces, society perpetuates traditional power dynamics.
Some students said that Dye was ignoring the political power of the performance, and that by ignoring that issue Dye was looking at the performance from a closed heterosexual viewpoint.
Junior David Berman said, “The politics of a lesbian with a strap-on dildo singing those lyrics are powerful. To equate it to sexual violence isn’t fair to it.”
Dye said that had Tribe 8 performed as part of a class and students were able to opt out of watching it, she would have had no problem with the performance. While it would still be sexual violence to her, she would see it in the context of the classroom.
Students challenged this by arguing that learning happens both inside and outside the classroom.
“I don’t think learning only happens in the classroom, but I don’t think academic freedom is blanket concept over the whole Oberlin campus,” Dye responded.
Some students saw the idea of academic freedom as elitist. “It sounds like freedom of expression for people with Ph.D.’s,” Benninghoff said.
The final issue that occupied the debate was Dye’s power as president. One student accused Dye: “Clearly you have the ability to censor any art.”
Dye responded, “No, you are wildly exaggerating.”
Senior Art Ettinger said he thought that despite the fact that Dye has retracted her statement that she thought the show should have been stopped, she is still not a proponent of free speech. Dye said in response, “Well I should be taken out and executed.”
Ettinger said, “Great comeback. Very mature.” Members of the audience chuckled after the remark.
The meeting continued ten minutes past its scheduled end.