Gender Awareness Week (G-Week) at FMU includes the national event called The Clothesline Project where schools and organizations design t-shirts to honor, commemorate and support those who have been sexually assaulted across the U.S.
This year, the event was held inside the Smith University Center (UC) due to concerns about the weather. The shirts were displayed around the staircases and walls so that students could view the designs from students in previous years. Several of last year’s shirts were hung around the room, telling stories of the experiences and thoughts of students who have faced sexual assault.
This year, the shirt designing process was more private and intimate, as the designing room was located upstairs in the UC in a small conference room. The professors involved in the Gender Studies program said they decided that this privacy would allow students to use the art-making experience as a therapeutic one, and providing this safe space would give students the ability to fully express themselves.
Pamela Rooks, an English professor, greeted students at a table downstairs in the UC to share information about Title IX, a program at FMU for students who have been sexually assaulted. She provided information about the counseling services on campus and the faculty who will report sexual misconduct to their coordinator in order to get help for the victim.
Downstairs information was provided concerning the meanings of different colors in relation to types of sexual assault. At larger Clothesline Project events, students can choose different colors of shirts to design, but students at FMU are given the option to choose colors for their design to represent their topic. For example, red, pink, and orange represent survivors of sexual assault, while purple is for women who were attacked because of their sexuality. There were rules given for those designing shirts based on their own personal experience with sexual assault, including not mentioning the name of the perpetrator and only naming the victim if permission has been given.
Rachel Spear, an English professor, also helped students find information on what to do in the situation where sexual misconduct has occurred. She also helped to set up the private room for students who wanted to design shirts. Because of the location and timing of the event, the professors involved considered places to hold the event in the future. In the past, the publicity and open location for designing the shirts have encouraged students to participate and have their shirts seen. Setting up the project in front of the breezeway has always been effective because of the visibility and traffic in the area.
Students also had the option to design a shirt at home and return it before the end of the event. Students who wanted to design their shirts privately and away from the eyes of other students and professors took this option and returned to hang their shirts the next day.
Rebecca Lawson, a psychology professor and the director of Counseling and Testing Center, monitored the designing room and was available to help students work through the emotions of designing such a personal and meaningful piece of art.
“When you can make a statement through color and through words and hang it up, it’s a release and a statement, and I think that’s part of its power,” Lawson said. “Your story is being honored.”
A big part of the Clothesline Project is the visibility of the personal stories.
“For some, the hanging of the shirt is symbolic,” Spear said. “The student is speaking out, and they’re not just depicting it but becoming part of the story.”