Photos: ‘What Were You Wearing?’ exhibits aim to end victim blaming at MTSU

Photos and story by Bailey Wilson / Contributing Writer

The MTSU Health Education Research Program and other sponsors are hosting “What Were You Wearing?” exhibits in four locations on campus to kick off Sexual Assault Awareness Month. The exhibits opened on Monday, April 2 and will stay open until Friday, April 6.

The Business and Aerospace Building south lobby, the first floor of the James E. Walker Library, the Health, Wellness and Recreation Center lobby and the second floor of the Kirksey Old Main Building host displays of outfits collected by sponsors, which are clubs, organizations and departments that have donated clothes to the exhibits. The outfits were put together based on stories from 51 anonymous sexual assault survivors.

“One goal would be to challenge the mistaken belief that what a person chooses to wear somehow invites sexual assault,” said Lisa Schrader, the director of the Health Education Program. “Once (students) see the display and recognize there is no theme in the clothing, they can come away with the new understanding that the clothes really have nothing to do with the assault at all.”

The intent of the exhibits is to raise awareness of victim blaming. The first “What Were You Wearing?” exhibit was put together by Jen Brockman and Mary Wyandt-Hiebert at the University of Arkansas in 2013. The exhibit was inspired by the poem, “What I Was Wearing,” by Mary Simmerling, which is featured at every display at MTSU.

“The second goal is that people that view the displays will see themselves in the clothing,” Schrader said. “So even though that story may not be theirs, they can picture themselves wearing something similar and recognize the humanity of all of the survivors whose story is represented here.”

The clothing donated were not worn by the survivors themselves. The items were donated by the sponsors, and some of the clothing items have been personalized to the campus. For example, one story has a sweatshirt in it, and the sweatshirt is an MTSU sweatshirt.

“I would say the biggest challenge was figuring out the best way to display the clothing,” Schrader said. “We had to take into mind things like we didn’t want to block foot traffic … I’m happy with the result … This has surpassed my expectation.”

In some locations, three-dimensional mannequins have been dressed in outfits, and in others, clothing is pinned onto black drapes for the display. In future displays, color drapes will be added so dark colored clothing will stand out.

“This is probably the one project that I feel like has had more student collaboration, more departmental collaboration and just overall positive interest of any that I have had the privilege of working with,” Schrader said.

The campus sponsors of the exhibits include Alpha Chi Omega, Alpha Omicron Pi, Blue Raider Athletics, the Campus Recreation Center, the Charlie and Hazel Daniels Veterans and Military Family Center, the MTSU Panhellenic Council, Counseling Services, the MTSU Health Education Research Organization, Health Services, Housing and Residential Life, International Affairs, the June Anderson Center for Women and Nontraditional Students, Kappa Delta, Ladies for Change, MT 316, the National Association of Black Social Workers, the National Society of Leadership and Success and the Student Government Association.

“It is my hope that it’s not just a one-time thing,” Schrader said. “I also have a vision to include MTSU specific stories … We’re asking current survivors, survivors here at MTSU, to be willing to submit their response to the question, ‘What were you wearing?’”

MTSU students who wish to submit a story for future displays are being asked to submit it anonymously by text message. Students can text the code 249310 with their response to the question and send it to the number 37607. There is no service charge for the text message.

To contact News Editor Andrew Wigdor, email

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  1. Avatar
    April 6, 2018

    This exhibit is a fantastic idea to approach the issue of rape and rape culture. Too many times the blame is put on women for the perverse actions of men who should be able to know right from wrong. Just because a woman might wear revealing clothing does not mean that she is fair game for men to do what they wish to them. Often times women seem to wear these kind of clothes simply to embrace their own sexuality and make themselves feel better and stronger.
    The real problem lies in bad sense of entitlement of men, and it is often men who are the first to downplay what happened to the woman. They see it as the woman’s fault that they were sexually violated and therefore do not deserve any sympathy. This is a scary precedent and is something that needs to be eradicated from modern society. We no longer live in an age of subjugated women, they are equals with us men whether we like it or not.
    This problem extends both ways however, and people need to realize that men can be victims of rape too. Instead men that come forward are ridiculed and made fun of simply because they spoke up about being victimized.
    Their is an unsettling double standard for rape, especially in this country. When a woman is immediately called a liar because she accused someone of rape, or the blame is paced at her feet there is an deeper issue. The people of this nation need to come forward and learn that the rapist is the sick individual that needs to be blamed for the heinous crime, not the victim.

  2. Avatar
    April 6, 2018

    These are such wonderful displays. I will be honest at first I did not realize what they were about, because I would only glance at them as I walked by. Now having read the article these displays are put in perspective for me. This is such a great way to show that the victims are not at fault when it comes to sexual assault. If it were something like murder, we would not justify it if the murderer said: “he provoked me with words”. Ultimately the assaulter made the choice to sexually assault someone, so they should be held accountable for there actions. Why would we tell the victim that they are the ones to blame for sexual assault towards them? This display definitely shows that what you were doesn’t protect you from sexual assault, It happens to people in the backless dress’ but it also happens to people in sweats. It happens more than it ever should and this display brings awareness to that fact making people think about it. We have to be aware of these things as a society even when it seems so easy to pass them by. If we are aware we can address these problems and try to do something about them.

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