UTAH TECH UNIVERSITY'S STUDENT NEWS SOURCE | May 21, 2024

Annual Vagina Project focuses on sex, body image issues

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The Vagina Project is more than just an event with a “funny” name that offers cupcakes decorated like vaginas.  

In just its third year on Dixie State University’s campus, the Vagina Project has created a culture of openness surrounding gender and sexual literacy issues specific to the community. This year’s project spanned two nights, Monday and Tuesday, and featured performances from the DSU theater, dance and English departments, as well as research from the psychology and criminal justice department concerning sexual behavior, the construction of gender, and pornography use.  

Dannelle Larsen-Rife, an associate psychology professor and Vagina Project organizer, said, although its name makes some think otherwise, the Vagina Project doesn’t focus solely on women. 

“The issues that impact women also impact men,” Larsen-Rife said.  

Events like the Vagina Project help men sympathize with women, said Brandt Larsen, a junior nursing major from St. George. 

“I think [these events] are good because I like to understand my wife more,” Brandt said. “As a man, I think it’s good that we understand what [women] go through, so we can educate others.” 

The dance performance by the DSU Modern Dance and Improvisation Club featured students dancing over background track of their own voices expressing that they’re more than their bodies, insecurities, stress and skin color.  

In addition, theater students read anonymous submissions from the community March 29, and audience members were invited on the stage to participate in an active discussion based on the readings. 

Students who participated in the discussion spoke about how there’s a need for better sex education in the community. Gavin Hall, a junior biology major from St. George, said the Vagina Project was an enlightening, educational experience for him. 

“In high school, my teacher would be like, ‘Here’s the book, and here’s your assignment: Fill in the blanks,’” Hall said. “It was not a discussion (about sex).” 

Kenadee McMullin, a freshman radiology major from Roosevelt, said a slam poetry reading performed by English instructor Lauren Sypniewski titled “To the Children” made her think about her own future children. 

“When I have sons and daughters, I want to teach my sons to be respectful to women,” McMullin said. “I want to teach my girls to be brave and proud of who they are.” 

The Vagina Project stemmed from students asking questions about body image and sexual literacy in Larsen-Rife’s psychology classes. She said the project was born after she spoke with other faculty and realized students wanted to talk about these issues in an academic setting. 

Larsen-Rife said she heard about a mother and daughter who, after they attended a previous year’s Vagina Project together, were talking about one of the monologues submitted by someone in the community about what it’s like knowing someone who was raped. It was because of that monologue, Larsen-Rife said, that the daughter shared with her mom for the first time that she had been gang raped the year before and had never been comfortable telling her.

“Every year it evolves,” she said. “I don’t view this as my project; it’s our campus and community project.”