Since 2014, TU’s Advocacy Alliance has been hosting the Clothesline Project during Homecoming week. The Clothesline Project, a project started in 1990 in Cape Cod, MA, displays shirts decorated to bear witness to sexual violence. Participants decorate a shirt to tell their story or the story of someone close to them, or to comment on the issue of interpersonal violence.
The project was displayed on Dietler Commons from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. for a few days during homecoming week. The choice of week is deliberate, according to Alyson Garrison, head of Advocacy Alliance, because the number of visitors skyrockets during homecoming. With the project, TU can show that “these are our students and this is what we’re doing to protect them…it’s a way to show this is where our students are in their minds.” Such a visual display lets visiting parents know that while TU is not immune to sexual violence, they are trying to protect their children.
Garrison said parents have generally been supportive and thankful of the project, because it shows the university addressing sexual violence and not hiding such an uncomfortable issue. Students also expressed appreciation; but this year, some have been concerned that the tactic is not necessarily the right approach. Garrison plans to bring the comments to the next Advocacy Alliance meeting to see if they could affect or create future programming, but also acknowledges this project is done in schools across the country.
The Clothesline Project is “just a piece of a much larger conversation and program [the university has] going on with the Advocacy Alliance and Student Alliance for Violence Education (SAVE).” Being so public but not necessarily confrontational, the project, Garrison believed, will “stop the silence of sexual violence by bringing it to the forefront, so we have to give voice to the survivors and hopefully drown out the perpetrators.”
“If [this discussion] goes underground, that’s the scariest part,” she said.
The upcoming presidential election has affected the Clothesline Project. The video featuring Donald Trump and Billy Bush, in which Trump discusses groping and kissing women without their consent, was published the same week shirt decorating occurred. Consequently, there were many shirts with the p-word (derogatory term for a woman’s vulva) and “locker room talk” as topics.
The released video, Garrison said, demonstrates rape culture, which is the umbrella topic of the Alliance. “[The Clothesline Project] is the horrific end of [rape culture],” she said, but “rape culture is an everyday thing we can stop.”
This year, the number of shirts has seen a jump. In 2014, 47 shirts were decorated. In 2015, 7 were added, and this year, the collected shirts total 111. The large increase is mostly due to the shirt-decorating being held in each residence hall by an RA. Previously, Garrison said, the shirt-decorating was often SAVE students or the students of those involved with the Alliance. “If we’re there, with them in the halls, it was more visible,” she said, which aligned with their goal of creating a discussion around the issue.
While the number of shirts has been increasing over the past three years, Garrison said the goal is to actually have less shirts, “because then it’s become a part of everyday conversation and we don’t have to make it such a spectacle.” Until then, Garrison said the Alliance will be ready with more shirts and supplies.