Many of those who walked by Student Union on April 14, noticed that it looked like someone had just hung out his or her bright colored laundry to dry in the spring weather. However they were actually viewing was the tenth annual Clothesline Project here at West Chester University. According to www.clotheslineproject.org, the first Clothesline Project took place in October of 1990 in Hyannis, Mass.
The idea of the project is for survivors of rape, abuse or incest to decorate shirts to express their feelings and experiences. Shirts can also be made in memory of victims. Often shirts are color coded, with different colors representing different types of abuse.
The event this year was co-sponsored by the WCU Women’s Center and Sigma Pi Fraternity. The Brothers of Sigma Pi have a unique service program that directly benefits the home school as opposed to most Greek organizations that support outside services. The Altruistic Campus Experience (A.C.E.) program leads the men to help with various service programs on campus along with their national philanthropy, The Sam Spady Foundation.
Sigma Pi recognized that the only way for violence against women to be reduced was for men to take a stand against it.
“There’s hundreds of shirts out there,” said Kevin Roman, a second year student. “These are all based on first hand accounts, so you can see how big of a problem it is.”
Robin Garrett, director of the Women’s Center calls the work of Sigma Pi “extraordinary.” She also noted that without the help of the Brothers the event wouldn’t have been as successful. “Because of busy, conflicting schedules the Women’s Center staff couldn’t be here to set up this morning. This wouldn’t have been possible with out Sigma Pi.
Garrett also cited some shocking statistics. According to statistics recently released from PECAR by the age of eighteen, one in four girls have already been sexually assaulted. Equally shocking is the number for boys- one in six.
“Looking at these numbers in regards to an incoming class of 1500 students, the number of students who have already experienced these things is tremendous,” said Garrett.
While The Clothesline Project has some guidelines, such as not allowing full names of perpetrators and having the color code system, they fully understand how helpful speaking out is for the healing process. It is estimated by the national committee that since the first event over 35,000 shirts have been designed. Most are simple marker or paint on a plain t-shirt, but all are powerful.
“You stole my virginity, but you can’t have my voice.” “I thought we were friends.” “Just remember, it was never your fault.” All of these powerful messages covered our campus today, and served as a reminder of how much further we have to go.
“Saying it’s liberating is just the tip of the iceberg,” said student who wishes to remain anonymous. “It’s so much more than that. I have been silent for so long and I’m not going to be silent anymore. I can help people.” The story on her shirt was one that obviously took strength to overcome, as did all of the others.
Jenn Rothstein is a first-year student majoring in English. She can be reached at JR649299@wcupa.edu