Creating a space where dialogue is encouraged and attendees are not blamed by the victim, “What I Wore” is a new on-campus exhibit that aims to give survivors of sexual assault a place to speak out. and raise awareness.
The exhibit, open in the Student Union Art Gallery on the second floor of the LSU Library through April 29, has been in the works since December. The pandemic delayed its official launch earlier this month, during Sexual Assault Awareness Month. Women’s Center Director Summer Steib collaborated on the exhibit with the Lighthouse program to teach about the widespread impact of sexual violence.
“We always knew we wanted to see this again,” Steib said. “We felt this was something truly powerful and an opportunity for our campus community to engage in meaningful, empowering and change-worthy dialogue about sexual violence and its impact on all of us. .”
The Lighthouse program sent out solicitations to the Baton Rouge community at large, allowing anyone to anonymously submit a description of the physical clothing they were wearing at the time of the abuse, assault or rape. The exhibition features a total of 16 submissions.
In addition to showcasing survivors’ clothing, the exhibit also features the Women’s Center Clothesline Project, a panel from the student-led interactive performance ‘Resilient Body’ and other interactive opportunities for students to come and learn about sexual assault.
“We really want people to think about how this has affected them, what changes they are ready to make and maybe how this has challenged a belief they had about sexual violence” , said Steib.
Steib hopes that in people’s reflections during the exhibit, they will see how sexual assault is not a problem of the past. It is ubiquitous, especially on the LSU campus.
“I think each of us plays a part in sustaining rape culture in one way or another,” she said. “A lot of people think these are issues that don’t affect them if they’re not personally survivors or if they don’t know of any. I think what’s really powerful for me is that the majority of outfits, every time you look at them, you can go home and find the exact same outfit in your closet.
In addition to trying to explore the commonalities and community of survivors, the exhibit also highlights the intersectional nature of sexual assault, which was highlighted by Lighthouse Program Coordinator Victoria Polk.
“I think this exhibit particularly shed light on different ages and genders that tend to be impacted, directly or indirectly, by violence and sexual assault,” Polk said. “We want to highlight the fact that we may tend to believe that a certain group tends to experience this type of violence. Really, anyone can be a victim and a survivor.
Spanish kinesiologist and senior Paola Colmenares said she stayed in the exhibit for about 30 minutes, reading each victim’s story and looking at the street clothes hanging there. The most poignant outfit on display was a boy’s summer camp uniform.
“I thought the exhibit was really heartbreaking,” Colmenares said. “It just shows you the range of situations these people were in.”
Colmenares believes there is a stigma against survivors of sexual assault and there is still a lot of blame for survivors based on what they wear. She said what makes the exhibit so powerful is how much it invalidates that belief.
“It made me really sad to read the story of this person whose innocence was stripped away,” Colmenares said. “It really puts it into perspective that it could happen to anyone anywhere, no matter what they’re wearing.”
Title IX Assistant Coordinator for Education and Prevention Miranda Brown was present at the Expo launch and spoke about her future plans and initiatives to help create a more intersectional conversation on campus about sexual assault.
“The Women’s Center has been a huge help,” Brown said. “Summer Steib and I work very well together, and we’ve worked on several projects together at this point.”
Sexual assault awareness has been at the forefront of LSU’s controversies since November 2020, when USA Today published an investigative report exposing the university’s widespread mishandling of sexual assault cases within the Office of Title IX and of LSU Athletics.
Since then, a 148-page investigation by law firm Husch Blackwell has been released, which included a list of 18 recommendations for the University to restructure its Title IX investigations. Only one has not been officially completed, although it is expected to be completed next spring.
By increasing campus awareness of sexual assault, educating the campus population about consent, and showcasing the intersectionality of the issue, organizations like the Women’s Center and the Lighthouse Program are helping to create a safer LSU.
“What I wore” is just one of the actions this campus is taking locally to create awareness.
“We know the survivors are going to come to the exhibit,” Steib said. “There were survivors who had pieces displayed on the wall that were there for the opening. We just hope they see themselves reflected and see that they are not alone. similar experiences and what happened to them did not happen in isolation.”