April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month and the Schumacher Gallery has opened an exhibit entitled “What were you wearing?” The exhibit has come to fruition through the partnership between the Office of Student and Community Engagement and the Title IX Office.
The art installation is a collection of stories shared from survivors of sexual assault from members of our community including students, faculty, and staff.
The installation was inspired by the original creators Jen Brockman and Dr. Mary Wyandt-Hiebert from the University of Arkansas.
“What Were You Wearing?” was inspired by a poem sharing the same title written by Dr. Mary Simmerling. The poem describes how detailed she can remember the clothing she wore but reflects the insignificance to the commonly asked question when taking into account the trauma of the event.
In the Schumacher Gallery rendition, outfits were recreated from survivors’ anonymous submissions recounting their stories and recalling what they wore. Each set of clothing was displayed with variety, each having its own written story alongside it.
Sophia Wilson of Student & Community Engagement was one of the advocates and organizers for the exhibit. “This idea came to light early in the early fall, before classes had begun, between me and Deanna Wagner. In the beginning stages of developing a prevention and wellness programming plan, we knew that April was Sexual Assault Awareness Month and wanted to provide a program that really dove into the concept of rape culture and awareness of sexual assault even on a campus like ours.”
The exhibit has high importance, as it expresses sexual assault is not limited to one group of people and is never a result of clothing. Clothing itself cannot provoke violence.
Wilson said, “By providing an exhibition that was created from the stories of our own community members, we essentially ask the community to reflect on their own experiences with the topic, and challenge viewers to contemplate why as a society we ask the question, “What were you wearing?” in the first place.”
The topic is heavy and stirs emotions when reading stories that took place.
“There were times when it was certainly very hard,” Wilson said. “As the stories came in and I began collecting articles of clothing it weighed on me that these were members of our community who walk around campus every day. I was also aware that these survivors who chose to share their stories are only but a small fraction of survivors.”
Wilson hopes visitors of the exhibit will carry with them that sexual assault is a real and serious issue in our society.
“It is not just something that affects young women, but all people. As a society, we so quickly want to cast blame on the survivor for what happened to them when we should be holding perpetrators of this type of violence accountable for their actions.”
Wilson continued with, “Knowing that there are survivors on our campus and in our communities who we interact and spend time with each day, should be the catalyst for working to make a significant change in our lives and what we do to support all survivors of sexual assault and power based violence.”
The University will host the “What Were You Wearing?” art installation April 12 through April 26 in the Schumacher Showcase Art Gallery located on the fourth floor of the Blackmore Library.