The history department partnered with multiple campus groups to bring the “What We Were Wearing” exhibit to Northwest. It will be up in the Administration Building until Nov. 9.
The display features 20 anonymous stories from sexual assault survivors posted next to clothing that matches the outfits they were wearing. Associate professor of history Elyssa Ford explained that the location of the exhibit was chosen deliberately.
“When it’s in the Administration Building (it says) that this is something that Northwest (and) the administration takes seriously,” Ford said. “We don’t want to brush it under the rug.”
Ford said the planning committee wanted the exhibit to line up with Tarana Burke’s talk for the Distinguished Lecture Series.
“It really ties in with that whole discussion of sexual assault and increasing awareness of that,” Ford said. “I think it’s just really powerful to see the clothing there and then that description, to see that the sexual assault has absolutely nothing to do with what they were wearing.”
“What You Were Wearing” was an exhibit started by the University of Arkansas in 2013 to open a dialogue about sexual assault and the victim-blaming that comes with it. Ford had been wanting to organize an exhibit so she contacted various organizations in August to start planning one for Northwest.
Representatives from the Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, Wellness Services, Green Dot Training, Greek Life, Panhellenic Council and Concerned Advocates for Relationship Equality met weekly beginning in mid-August to organize the exhibit.
They changed the name to “What We Were Wearing” to help people better understand that sexual assault is a real thing that happens to people nearby. All the experiences in the exhibit are from students on campus.
“I hope students, faculty and staff and administration realize that this kind of thing happens here and it happens to students here,” Ford said. “This happens everywhere, and it’s a reality that students are facing and are trying to overcome and deal with. I also hope it opens that conversation about it more.”
The exhibit has a large variety of experiences, showing that sexual assault can happen to anyone. Most accounts are from female students, but there are a couple male victims as well as one who identifies as gender non-binary.
Assaults also aren’t just between a male and female. There are accounts that are female to female and male to male. The exhibit also has testimonies from all ages. Some share their age in the brief summary of what happened, and others have a young child’s outfit next to it.
Some students used the exhibit to share their story for the first time.
“Everything’s anonymous,” Ford said. “In some of those experiences there are people saying, ‘I’ve never told my family, I’ve never told anyone about this before because I thought it was my own fault.’ I know there’s going to be students, faculty and staff, and members of the community that come and see this and say ‘I’ve had that same experience, I felt the same way.’ Seeing that other people have gone through that makes you feel less alone in never having talked about that before, which I think is really important.”
Students from CARE, an organization that advocates for victims of relationship and sexual violence, played a key role in planning the exhibit because they had seen a travelling version of the exhibit in the spring at a conference.
Vice President Hannah Bashore said she learned and gained valuable skills from the experience.
“It was a team effort, and it couldn’t have been done without everybody,” Bashore said. “I definitely encourage students and faculty to see the exhibit. It’s very eye-opening, and I think that it’s easy for us to think that sexual violence doesn’t happen. There’s negativity about it in the media, but there’s a lot more of it than we think. I totally recommend it.”
Ford was happy about the amount of collaboration with the different organizations that went into planning the exhibit. Having a diverse committee meant they could publicize it to a large variety of people.