Last year was the first year I attended Me Too Monologues. Despite my interest in social justice issues and in the experiences of my fellow students, I’d never made time to attend the show, which highlights aspects of students’ identity and experiences on campus. I could say that I finally went because my schedule was free, or, because, as an upperclassman, I was more aware of on-campus events. But, the reality is, I went mostly to see how the monologue I’d written was performed.
Yet, despite my selfish motivations, I found myself absolutely swept away in the show. It’s an amazing and incomparable experience—hearing words you’ve said to yourself in your head a million times voiced through someone else’s mouth. At the same time, you’re immersed in a jam-packed audience that is clapping, laughing and sobbing in agreement with those words. As someone who has felt alone in my experiences on campus much of the time, it was an exceptionally powerful feeling.
Probably more surprising to me, though, was how I felt when hearing stories I couldn’t relate to as well. Despite the fact that there were many monologues on topics and issues that had never touched my life, the stories were still somehow relatable. I found myself cheering along and feeling as if such foreign experiences were almost familiar. Despite difference in lived experiences, empathizing with such personal and emotional stories comes easy.
And then came my monologue. When the first few words of it were said aloud, I cringed in anticipation, waiting for the room to respond. As some of my biggest college experiences were laid out for the world to hear, people began to cheer, express agreement and cry. To me, the experience was unexpected and almost alien. I watched as people around me had emotional reactions to my stories that I would have never had myself. It was strange, uncomfortable, but, most of all, it was reassuring that my experiences were not crosses that I had to bear alone. Such large-group empathy and sympathy for some of the most private parts of my life created an incomparable experience. All in all, I have never felt so validated.
Me Too Monologues and other programs like it, such as All of the Above, have not escaped criticism on Duke’s campus. Some people dislike the use of personal experience as a means to convey information or argument, while others don’t understand why actors read the monologues as opposed to the author. Other people just hate the long lines. This year, I’ve heard the monologues described as primarily showcasing white women and “white feminism”—that is, feminist ideology that leaves out and “others” the experience of people of color, queer people or people with intersectional identities. I’ve heard people throw around the idea that the monologues slut-shame, white-wash and straight-wash.
All in all, I can see how all of these criticisms are valid to a point. It is the prerogative of all groups on campus, especially those well-publicized groups that are understood as voices of the Duke community, to be intentionally inclusive, especially of traditionally marginalized and silenced viewpoints. There is not much excuse for not getting administrative input, monologues or actors from such groups, and that is something I believe the monologues should constantly be working to improve on.
A part of the challenge facing Me Too Monologues and other programs like it, however, is the desire to engage the unengaged—that is, those students who are not already involved in social justice activism or in the other issues the program raises. Reaching such students, it seems, has typically been accomplished through a balancing act of straight, white, male voice with other voices. To me, this inclusion often feels unnecessary, as most of the voices heard on campus are those of straight, white males. Nonetheless, it is important to attempt to engage people who don’t necessarily consider themselves stakeholders in fights for equality. This is an issue that confronts not just Me Too Monologues, but many other types of activism. Perhaps in the future we will be able to find a solution that does not privilege already-privileged voices, while still engaging those members of the community who have had fewer experiences with oppression themselves.
Yet, criticisms of the administrative and creative choices aside, the monologues at each show represent formative experiences of members of the Duke community. Despite what larger messages the stories may convey when put together, or what groups on campus they do or don’t represent well, the monologues provide a chance to see the inner life of Duke students that is all-too-often veiled under a shade of “effortless perfection” and doing “fine.” It gives us a glimpse into the realities of our fellow students and, in doing so, helps us, and those students sharing their experiences, to see a little bit more about our true selves and, maybe, feel a little bit less alone in our own experiences.
So go see Me Too Monologues. See All of the Above. Go on Common Ground and FEMCAMP and to the open dialogues at the Women’s Center, the Center for Sexual and Gender Diversity and the Center for Multicultural Affairs. Take advantage of every opportunity you can to learn about your fellow students and to open yourself up to their experiences and thoughts. Truly listen to your fellow students, and ask questions about the deeper parts of their lives. Hear about the experiences of your fellow students, and let those experiences impact you and change the way you look at things. Because if we are here in college for one thing, it is to learn, and perhaps the greatest sources of learning are the people around us. To not seek out all types of learning experiences would be a disservice not only to our fellow students whose souls have been bared before us, but also to ourselves.
Lillie Reed is a Trinity senior. Her column is part of the weekly Socialites feature and normally runs every other Wednesday. Send Lillie a message on Twitter @LillieReed.