In her last days as a University of Chicago student, fourth-year Jackie Todd hopes to revive “Vita Excolatur,” the sex publication made by and for students that contains questionably pornographic material. Taking its name from the University’s motto, the magazine attempts to show “the life enriched” by sexuality. Although “Vita” has been short of writers, photographers, models, and a leadership structure since the magazine last made it to print in 2007, Todd has a strong interest in carrying out the project she inherited after her first year at the College. Many have expressed interest in “Vita” since then, but Todd says the problem has been students’ fears of commitment. Getting people to lay bare their bodies and thoughts about sex has proven difficult, even in a periodical that anticipates selling only 200 printed copies and will not be posted online, and editors have received last-minute requests to use pseudonyms or pull nude portraits. Contributors to the magazine cite anxiety of potential discovery by future employers or law school admissions officers as reasons for their preference for anonymity. Todd, calling herself the “Vita girl,” does not share this anxiety, stating plainly, “This is the bed I made for myself.”
UofC second-year and photographer Edward MenÃ©ndez, the only other actually named Vita contributor, is proud of the work he has submitted, although it was not shot for the magazine specifically. Like many UofC students, MenÃ©ndez is interested in questioning sex and gender roles, and believes “Vita” would be the appropriate venue. In this upcoming issue, he poses one female model in such a way that “it’s hard to draw sex out of the image.” A black-and-white side profile of a girl staring into a window located outside of the frame, the light spilling onto her slightly slumped shoulders, offers to its viewers no suggestions that are explicitly sexual. And yet by virtue of the fact that she is a naked woman, he admits that her image is sexualized. MenÃ©ndez prefers to inspire reflection rather than hand viewers any definite assignment or conclusions. “It’s a provocation, be it sexual, physical, psychological.”
As a rule, Todd would not ask “Vita” contributors to do something that she herself would not feel comfortable doing, which includes shots of penetration or masturbation. For her, a spread that involved any live sex act would be “crossing a line I’m not comfortable with,” adding, “There are some things you don’t get to see.” Though Todd’s boundaries may have influenced the direction of this last issue, her bold direction sets the bar high for issues to come, as she will be posing for “Vita”’s staple photo of “hot chicks reading books.” Said one of the magazine’s photographers, Tuncay Esref, “People are scared of other people’s judgments, which I think is why ‘Vita’ is necessary.” Esref hopes to find a future venue for “a shoot that involved sweat and bulges of skin and pubic hair.” With Todd graduating in just a few short days, her hope to “bring sex to a more public arena,” beginning with her own full exposure, is the first step to reclaiming the world of academic erotica. And with students like Esref and MenÃ©ndez sticking around, “Vita Excolatur” will live on as the counterpart to this crescat scientia institution.
“Vita” will be printed and ready for sale by the start of the second week in June in the UofC Reynolds Club.