Feature Photo by Angele Latham
Gallery photos and Story by Tina Higgins / Contributing Writer
As the month of April begins, college students across the United States are raising awareness for National Sexual Assault Awareness Month in the form of awareness campaigns, powerful marches and inspiring speakers. And across MTSU’s campus, Health Promotion’s the Power of One initiative, aimed at “(ending) gender-based violence and (increasing) students’ confidence to speak up when they see a lack of inclusion,” displayed an impactful event. Replica outfits that individuals were wearing during the time they were sexually assaulted hung on full display for students to view and reflect on. The event, which kicked off the month’s awareness activities, ended Friday, but organizers plan for the message it presents to last far beyond then.
According to the National Sexual Violence Resource Center, one in five women and one in 71 men will be raped at some point in their lifetime. Additionally, one in three women and one in six men will experience some form of sexual violence in their life. The question, “What were you wearing?” is frequently asked to sexual assault survivors, and it alludes that the victim could have avoided the assault if they wore something different.
The exhibit was created to show the diversity of outfits and to place the blame on the perpetrator rather than the victim.
“There’s no reason to ask the question of ‘What were you wearing?’,” said Lisa Schrader, director of MTSU Health Promotion and organizer for the event. “The responsibility for the action needs to be on the perpetrator.”
Schrader had originally heard about the concept of the display from another university. After gathering student surveys and reviews, the exhibit opened last year. Now, in its second annual exhibition, the displays are leaving just as much of an impression.
The exhibit was located in five locations: the first floor of the Walker Library, the second floor of the KUC, the south lobby of the BAS, the Rec Center lobby and the Murphy Center classroom hallway. Each presentation was strategically placed where students could easily access them but where survivors could known beforehand to avoid if needed. The displays were also paired with a warning that the exhibit contained graphic content.
All together there were 54 items of clothing – a woman’s dress, a man’s work uniform, a child’s shirt – each paired with a description of the event by a student that the assault happened to. These descriptions are turned in anonymously by students- some are from other campuses, and some are straight from MTSU.
Julia Alcantar, a sophomore at MTSU, said, “I think it’s important because it’s not like, ‘She was asking for it’ … It could literally be something that you are wearing right now. It is much more than that.”
Sexual assault is prevalent on college campuses. According to a study conducted by the Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network, nearly 23.1% of females and 5.4% of males who are undergraduate students experience sexual assault either violently or manipulatively, and even more cases go unreported. The reasoning for these cases not being reported is often that victims either felt like it was a personal matter, feared that they wouldn’t be believed or that it could not be solved by police, or feared that the perpetrator would get in trouble. Only 20% of individuals who are assaulted report it to the police, according to RAINN.
“Gender based violence doesn’t just pick one type of person,” said Power of One Prevention and Grant Coordinator Kelly Hill, another key organizer of the exhibit “… I think it (the What Were You Wearing Exhibit) is important for students who might ask the question, ‘What were you wearing?’ to a victim of sexual assault, and they might not know that that question is inappropriate. This exhibit is an in your face way to ask for people to empathize with survivors.”
“I think there’s a difference for most people in seeing versus hearing,” Schrader said. “We’ve heard the statistics. You may even hear stories and see pictures of things on the news. But when you’re just going about your day-to-day activates, and you stop in a place you’ve been hundreds of times before and you see this. And it’s close that you could potentially see yourself wearing, or that you see your friends wearing, it’s a t-shirt that has your university branded on it. It becomes much more personal for more people than just hearing about it.”
Schrader hopes to bring the exhibit back next year. The displays also feature resources for individuals if they are victims of sexual assault and need assistance.
Sexual Assault 24-hour crisis line: (615) 494-9262
Domestic Violence 24-hour crisis line: (615) 896-2012
MTSU Counseling Services: (615)898-2670
MTSU Student Health Services: (615) 898-2988
MTSU Campus Police: (615) 898-2424
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