UTAH TECH UNIVERSITY'S STUDENT NEWS SOURCE | April 18, 2024

The Vagina Project: how Barbie, gender, sexuality topics embody ‘We All Matter’

The Vagina Project is an event that was hosted by Utah Tech University’s social and behavioral sciences department. It is a multidisciplinary event focused on themes of sexuality and mental health, which took place Feb. 8 in the Dolores Eccles Building. Grace Kazmierski | Sun News Daily

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Attendees danced the night away at this year’s Vagina Project, which brought students together to celebrate gender and identity through its theme of “We All Matter.”

Hosted by Utah Tech University’s social and behavioral sciences department, The Vagina Project is a multidisciplinary event that highlights issues related to sexuality and mental health. The event took place Feb. 8 in the Dolores Eccles Building, and showcased organizations from across campus and around the community.

Attendees had the opportunity to view exhibitions on reproductive health, learn how to combat loneliness and listen to speakers explore modern topics on identity.

The project is Utah Tech’s spinoff of The Vagina Monologues, an episodic play that sparked a nationwide movement exploring sex, relationships and femininity. In turn, this adaptation began as an effort to normalize the conversation around these ideas.

The theme for this year’s event was largely inspired by Greta Gerwig’s “Barbie” movie and explored topics featured in the film. 

“The purpose of the event is to be a place to learn about identity of all types,” said Dannelle Larsen-Rife, co-founder and co-adviser of the project. “This year we want to help people understand no matter who you are or what you’re experiencing, we all matter.”

Artwork from students across campus was featured alongside interactive exhibits where attendees could explore ideas relating to understanding gender and mental health.

Naji Runs Through, a senior art major from St. George, was one of many artists who displayed artwork at the event.

Naji Runs Through standing next to artwork at the event.

“It’s a celebration of differences and a celebration of gender and an open educational dialogue about what those things mean,” Runs Through said. “The idea behind my artwork is to address my gender and my identity as an Indigenous person and as a trans person.”

Accompanying the art displays, “Barbie” themed booths and exhibits shared their take on this year’s theme. Professor of English Ami Comeford displayed her collection of holiday Barbie dolls alongside a life-sized Barbie box where attendees could take photos.

Ami Comeford standing next to her booth at the event.

“The first time people come to my house, they always say, ‘But you’re a feminist, and you collect Barbies?’” Comeford said. “But I think within feminism, we can’t all just say that all feminists like this or that. It’s more complicated than that, and Barbie as an image is a great representation of that.” 

In line with the Barbie theme, the “I am Kenough” booth advocated for Kens to celebrate their identities alongside their Barbies. This booth featured Ken-themed trivia, and attendees could see how fast they could dress a Ken doll. 

Students from the dental hygiene program promoted awareness about sexually transmitted oral diseases and promoted ways to practice good oral health. Similar booths also promoted ways to practice good sexual health and learn about reproductive care.

Attendees were given the opportunity to be assessed on their attachment security and learn about ways to combat negative behaviors in their relationships. 

“This project is important because being able to have those discussions opens up the space to learn more about others, and what it’s like to live those experiences that we haven’t been able to experience,” said Evelyn Fuentes, a senior biology major from Ogden.

Fuentes works with the Center of Inclusion and Belonging to promote diversity across campus.

In the black box theater, various speakers gave presentations on feminism, diversity and conversations surrounding gender and sexuality. The event also featured drag performances by members of Southern Utah Drag Stars to promote transgender visibility.

“We want these topics to be something that people can understand,” Larsen-Rife said. “It’s about normalizing and accepting our bodies and reducing the social stigma surrounding these ideas.”