Students' Use of Word 'Vagina' Sparks Controversy

Cross River, NY

Three students at John Jay High School in Cross River, NY sparked a controversy that gained national attention when they used the word vagina during an open mic session at their public school.

Each of the young women was punished with a one-day suspension from school after reading a passage from The Vagina Monologues, a play by Eve Ensler that the author calls “an anthem about female empowerment.”1

School officials explained the students had been warned prior to their presentation that they could not use the word vagina because there would be young children in the audience.2

The principal asserted that the suspension was for insubordination and not for using the word vagina. “When a student is told by faculty members not to present specified material because of the composition of the audience and they agree to do so, it is expected that the commitment will be honored and the directive will be followed,” he said in a written statement. “When a student chooses not to follow that directive, consequences follow."3

The students contended that they had never made such an agreement, and that cutting the word from their presentation amounted to censoring artistic material.4  

Their suspension drew attention and concern from the community, and sparked a debate about freedom of speech in public schools that made national headlines.

Playwright Eve Ensler joined the discussion, supporting the girls’ decision. “Why a school has a problem with teenagers saying the word vagina is beyond me, and is truly a throwback to the dark ages,” she said. “It’s just shocking in 2007 to even be engaged in this dialogue.5

The media and community attention caused the school to postpone the students’ suspension, which was supposed to take place during the second week of March, until after a meeting of the Katonah-Lewisboro School Board.6

After that meeting, the district superintendent reversed the students’ suspension.7


  1. Anahad O’Connor, “‘Monologues’ Spurs Dialogue on Taste and Speech,” New York Times, 8 March 2007, accessed 8 March 2007,
  2. Ibid.
  3. Ibid.
  4. Diana Costello and Susan Elan, “Cross River Students Suspended for Saying ‘Vagina’ at Open Mic Session,” The Journal News (NY), 6 March 2007, accessed 8 March 2007,
  5. Anahad O’Connor, “‘Monologues’ Spurs Dialogue on Taste and Speech,” New York Times, 8 March 2007, accessed 8 March 2007,
  6. Ibid.
  7. “New York High School Lifts Suspensions of 3 Students for Using ‘Vagina’ on Stage.” Fox, 13 March 2007, accessed  30 March 2007, <,2933,258645,00.html>.

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