In April, a local partnership brings the “‘What Were You Wearing?’ Survivor Art Installation” to Eastern Mennonite University and three other area locations. The exhibit’s goal is to raise public awareness about sexual violence and to educate communities on prevention.
The first exhibit opens Wednesday, April 4, at EMU’s Sadie Hartzler Library. An opening reception hosted by the Collins Center will be Friday, April 6, from 5-8 p.m. at the Frame Factory in downtown Harrisonburg. Exhibits at Bridgewater College and James Madison University begin April 9. All exhibits are open to the public.
Each location will feature a different display with narratives from real survivors of sexual assualt describing what they were wearing and what they experienced. Although the items displayed are not the actual clothes worn, they match the narratives to give a visual impact to the viewer.
The first survivor art installation originated at the University of Arkansas in 2013. Created by Jen Brockman and Mary Wyandt-Hiebert, the project was inspired by Mary Simmerling’s poem, “What I Was Wearing.” The installation allows participants to see themselves reflected in not only the outfits, but also the stories.
This is the Collins Center’s 22nd Annual Sexual Violence Awareness Art Exhibit, but the first installation of its kind in the Shenandoah Valley. The nonprofit offers sexual assault crisis services, prevention and education, and trauma-informed therapy.
“Sexual violence has far more to do with a person’s need to assert power and control over another than it does with the clothing worn by the harmed individual. However, the question of ‘what were you wearing?’ persists as one of the most victim-blaming questions we hear,” said Rhoda Miller, crisis response coordinator at the Collins Center.
“It is our hope that survivors who experience the installations feel heard, believed, and know that the assault was not their fault, and that all who attend might begin to see the absurdity of the question, ‘What were you wearing?’ after an assault,” said Jackie Hieber, JMU’s assistant director for sexual violence prevention and survivor advocacy.
The exhibit marks the first year the local nonprofit has collaborated with local universities on the event.
“We are honored to be a part of this project,” said EMU Counseling Center Director Tempest Anderson. “With the recent awarding of a grant to bring awareness to and decrease gender-based violence on college campuses, it is our goal to be involved in bringing light to this issue.”
EMU was recently awarded a $300,000 federal grant from the U.S. Department of Justice that focuses on connecting with community partners to combat sexual assault, domestic violence, dating violence and stalking on campus. The Collins Center is one of the grant partners.
EMU was among 53 colleges and universities around the United States to be selected for funding.