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The Century Project sparks controversy at UNC-W

Jennie Klahre: News Editor

Issue date: 3/5/09 Section: News

UNC-W administration recently approved the banning of

specific nude pictures of women under the age of 18 from The
Century Project, a photo exhibit currently on display in the
Warwick Center Ballroom.

The exhibit, developed in the 1980s, is a chronological series

of nude portraits of more than one hundred females from the
moment of birth to age 94. Most images are accompanied by
statements written by the women themselves about their
personal experiences with sexual assault and body

The Century Project has toured annually since 1992 and UNC-
W is the only institution that has allegedly censored it.

John Foubert, an associate professor at Oklahoma State

Media Credit: Copyright 2009 by Frank
University, issued letters to colleges hosting the exhibit,
imploring them to reconsider on the grounds that the show
features child pornography. According to Foubert, The Century
Project is "an unconscionable act of exploitation of children
that research shows will cause many harms to our nation's college campuses."

Shortly after receiving Foubert's letter, Marketing and Communications spokesperson Cindy Lawson
issued a statement on behalf of the university that read, "Because the exhibit does include women and
girls of all ages, we wanted to be sensitive to concerns raised about nude photos of young people under
the age of consent. Due to these concerns, the university requested that Century Project photographer
Frank Cordelle remove any photos of minors from the exhibit when it runs at UNCW."

Disappointed by the news, Cordelle agreed to cut 18 percent of his exhibit - 14 photographs in total.

"If it weren't for the fact that it happened at the last minute, I would have pulled the entire exhibit,"
Cordelle said. "It's a real violation of the first amendment and to academic freedom."

Provost Brian Chapman said that Cordelle's late notification was due to the failure of the Women's
Resource Center's to follow established protocol before booking a contracted program at the school.

"The Women's Resource Center didn't go through the proper channels," Chapman said. "When a
program is planning a contracted project, it must first go to the Vice Chancellor for approval."

But Janet Ellerby, interim director of the Women's Resource Center, disagreed.
"I ran the idea past Dr. Jose Hernandez, associate provost of Institutional Diversity and Inclusion, and
with his encouragement made arrangements for Frank to bring the exhibit to UNC-W," she said.

Chapman said other things contributed to the ban as well, citing concerns from the exhibit's previous
showing at UNC-W in 2002.

He said, "There was a huge controversy over The Century Project when it was here in 2002."

But according to an article from the March 14, 2002 issue of The Seahawk by Sarah van Schagen, the
exhibit drew positive praise and attracted a multitude of affirmative compliments for Cordelle.

Andrew Dutka, coordinator of Special Collections and Archives, said in 2002, "We expected some
controversy, but it hasn't generated much of a negative response. It's shocking in that it's so ordinary. It
makes us stop and realize we're all human beings and that's what we look like."

Cordelle agreed that UNC-W students welcomed it.

"I got nothing but praise for it, no controversy," Cordelle said. "I remember there were 1,986 people who
came to the exhibit in five days and it remains the attendance record for The Century Project in 60 plus
college campuses."

Many faculty members expressed concern over the current ban.

Bo Dean, program coordinator for the Honors Scholars Program, said, "To reduce this work to mere
bodies or to suggest pornography is the denigration of the work, idolatry, debasement and abuse to those
who posed. We are to inspire dialogue and discussion and elevate thinking."

Chapman disagreed.

"The stories that appear alongside the photographs are compelling, but that doesn't draw a relationship
between the stories and why the females had to be nude to tell it," said Chapman, who has not seen the
exhibit, but has reviewed the Web site containing the pictures.

He continued, "You have to consider where we are; we're not California, we're not Colorado, we're a very
conservative community. You have The Century Project going on in one room and on the other side of
the building you've got the Baptist Student Union meeting. You have to consider the parties involved."

The issue has sparked discussion regarding censorship and free speech by not only staff, faculty and
students, but also the National Coalition Against Censorship.

Svetlana Mintcheva, director of the Arts Program for the National Coalition Against Censorship, said in an
e-mail to Chancellor DePaolo, "For a public university to censor an integral part of an established and
highly regarded art project in response to one person's highly subjective complaint presents serious First
Amendment issues. It is impermissible for a public university to cede to ideologically motivated demands
and prevent its students from seeing an art show in its entirety."

According to Mintcheva, the U.S. Supreme Court declared simple nudity, whether it involves children or
adults, a "constitutionally protected expression."

She said, "Besides being constitutionally suspect, the University's decision violates well-established
principles of academic freedom and displays disregard for the core mission of an educational institution:
to advance knowledge, to promote the exploration of ideas and to train a new generation of informed
citizens and competent leaders by exposing them to a wide diversity of views."

And Rachel Radom, the instructional services librarian, said the administration's decision is "blatant

"It is the role of the university, artists and all interested in the open sharing of ideas to protect individual
voices and the free expression of ideas," she said. "It is an absolute bastardization of academic principles
to censor Cordelle's exhibit and I am appalled that it has happened on this campus."
Cordelle feels that this kind of censorship is a "slap in the face to every student on this campus."

He said, "Part of a university's unspoken creed is to encourage independence and present people with
ideas that they may or may not care for. I think for example if Karl Marx were still alive, most universities
would love to have him speak, but that doesn't mean they're endorsing communism. They're just willing to
expose their students to ideas."

Paul Rapoport, publisher of the book "Bodies and Souls: The Century Project," said, "Life doesn't begin at
18. There are issues, problems and solutions that are talked about by the children in this exhibition that
are very important. Their experiences can be absolutely unique and they're crucial to the development
process and body image."

According to Rapoport, both the book and exhibit have received extraordinary praise from educators,
psychiatrists and counselors.

"This project has run into no legal problems in his entire history," Rapoport said. "It's remarkable that
someone would attempt, so grotesquely, to derail a project that has had 18 years of success around the

And Ellerby is sad to see part of the exhibit go.

"I think that it's an amazing, powerful exhibit and I'm so sorry it won't be the full version," Ellerby said.
"The women aren't eroticized, not sexualized. They're real and honest, not air-brushed ideals that we see
every time we open a magazine. What Frank is trying to do is help women and men talk about the
representation of women's bodies in very open and compelling ways. This exhibit invites those kinds of

There is a notice on the door leading into the exhibit that warns the public that nudity is involved and
viewing is voluntary.

Cordelle also noted that every model photographed for the exhibit signed a model release and girls under
the age of 18 were required to have their parents co-sign release forms.

He even said the project has changed lives.

"The project has gotten hundreds of people into therapy and two have told me that after experiencing it
they decided not to have breast implants," Cordelle said. "In one case a girl who had been raped and was
highly suicidal saw the exhibit and said, 'If they can do it, I can do it too' and then she got into therapy."

Cordelle said another woman who had a history of breast cancer in her family was scared to go to the
doctor. But after seeing the pictures of women with mastectomies, she overcame her fear and claimed
the exhibit saved her life.

He said, "Many of the women that I photograph have had a lousy sexual experience and the actual act of
being photographed in the nude can be a significant therapeutic step in their process. They are once
again making themselves vulnerable under circumstances that nothing will happen to them."

But Foubert still feels very strongly about halting the exhibit's expanse in schools around the country.

"Men who view a lot of the images similar to the ones in The Century Project are more likely to commit
sexual violence than those who don't," Foubert said. "Being one who has fought against sexual violence
for many years and seen the research on the connection between the types of images in the project and
the types of images that have been shown through research to lead to sexual coercion and violence
committed by college men, I don't think that public colleges should be funding exhibits such as these."

Foubert has mixed feelings about the decision UNC-W administration made about the project. On one
hand, he considers it a small victory because underage girls will not undergo exploitation. On the other
hand, he feels harm is still being done by showing the exhibit because it is "a grave injustice to women
and they are objectifying women in a public place."
"It feeds the culture in which rape exists and feeds the culture in which men objectify women and look at
them as objects and not as people," he said. "I hope that the public and the campus community will
decide to exert whatever influence they can to see that exhibits such as these do not get funded at a
public institution at the caliber of UNC-W."

Rapoport said The College of William and Mary, which is expected to host the exhibit next, has decided to
move the display from its main campus to an art museum off-campus because of Foubert's letter.

When asked if he thought the alleged censorship will set a dangerous precedent for UNC-W, Chapman
said, "I don't think this will affect our reputation. The letters of support I've received from the community
tell me we've made the right decision. In a few weeks this entire situation will blow over and be forgotten."