Sex Workers’ Art Show likely to return

__Click “here”: to read College of William and Mary President Taylor Reveley’s full statement on the Sex Workers’ Art Show.__

College of William and Mary President Taylor Reveley will allow the Sex Workers’ Art Show to return to campus, though he thinks it will “breed controversy.”

The SWAS, a burlesque-style show performed by former and current sex workers, has appeared on campus for the past three years, attracting heavy media attention and controversy in 2007 and 2008. Former College President Gene Nichol cited his having allowed the show to take place as a principal reason his contract was not renewed almost one year ago, though the Board of Visitors said that was not the case.

“Right now is an unusually critical time in William and Mary’s long life … I am personally very disappointed — and quite frustrated — to find that the university must think yet again about SWAS,” Reveley said in a statement released to the news media yesterday. “This breeds controversy. It lessens our capacity to move the College forward.

“This would have been a good year, in my judgment, for SWAS supporters to
have called a time out,” he added.

But Reveley said he could not ban the show.

“The College has long placed great faith in its students to choose the speakers and performers they invite to campus,” Reveley said. “For practical as well as philosophical reasons, I will not play the censor.”

In his statement, Reveley called into question the intellectual rigor of the event.

“The free play of ideas is the best route to truth … The sponsors of SWAS and its performers must do much better on the Jeffersonian front than they have to date,” he said. “In addition to performing, they need to provide means for a serious discussion about pertinent issues, conducted with the intellectual rigor and civility characteristic of William and Mary.”

The BOV issued a statement supporting Reveley’s decision.

“Guided solely by the College’s best interest, [Reveley] made a clear and timely decision. The Board fully supports his conclusion,” BOV Rector Michael Powell ’85 said. “There are substantially more critical issues facing the College to occupy everyone’s time.”

Due to public nudity clauses, the SWAS cannot be shown in Williamsburg-area venues. But the clauses don’t apply to the College’s campus.

According to College spokesman Brian Whitson, the scheduling office had been informed of plans to invite the SWAS for a March 23 performance.

Jessee Vasold ’11, co-president of the Lambda Alliance, the College’s GLBTQ advocacy group, said his group, along with the Meridian Coffee House, Tidewater Labor Support Committee, VOX: Voices for Planned Parenthood, the Feminists’ Majority Leadership Alliance and feminist sexuality magazine Lips, would host the event.

SWAS organizer Annie Oakley noted last year that the opposition the show faced from both politicians and the media made it difficult to organize.

“This has been a more arduous and degrading experience than anything in the sex industry,” she said, adding that she would not want to come back.

But the Lambda Alliance contacted SWAS at the end of last semester to talk about bringing the show back, and has heard those involved would like to return.

According to Student Assembly Finance Committee member Brittany Fallon ’11, a proposal to grant $1,625 for the SWAS was passed Jan. 28.

“While press coverage has been extreme and somewhat ridiculous, there’s a lot of support among those who saw [SWAS] last year, and people who want to bring it back,” Vasold said. “We feel it has an important message to share.”

SA president Valerie Hopkins ’09 said she hopes this year proves to be less politically volatile.

“I think last year [SWAS] was used more as a political stepping zone and rallying cry for ousting Nichol,” she said. “Perhaps I was optimistic for thinking this year would be different.”

Hopkins said the event will likely be held in the Sadler Center Commonwealth auditorium, as theater commitments in the larger Phi Beta Kappa Hall likely would prevent its use. The 450-seat Commonwealth Auditorium sold out both shows last year.


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