Photo by Henry Pratt
In the dim evening hours of Tuesday, March 26, roughly 15 students gathered on the Coates Esplanade toting clothespins, scissors, a ball of twine and many brightly colored T-shirts. Three hours and one trip to Walmart later, the students were done setting up the Clothesline Project, a demonstration meant to bring awareness to instances of sexual injustice at Trinity.
More than 200 shirts now hang on clotheslines over the Esplanade. Each shirt represents someone who has been affected or knows someone who has been affected by sexual assault, abuse or violence.
Sophomore Cecelia Turkewitz played a major role in organizing the project. She reflected on the need for a central display.
“We hope it will get people talking and will get people thinking about their actions … and how to better themselves or better their community around them,” Turkewitz said.
The Clothesline Project is a larger movement that — according its official website — began in 1990 when members of Cape Cod’s Women’s Defense Agenda sought to bring awareness to violence against women.
Trinity’s iteration of the Clothesline Project was organized by the newly relaunched Coalition for Sexual Justice with assistance from Trinity’s Women and Gender Studies program. The Office of the Vice President provided funds for the T-shirts.
Sarah Erickson, professor of communication, initially brought up the possibility of bringing the project to Trinity.
“I think what I was hearing from students in our various meetings and at the Coalition … was this desire for visibility on some level in addition to a desire for working for change,” Erickson said. “I think I was like, ‘Here are some things we can do. One of them is the Clothesline Project.’ And then they totally ran with it and organized everything.”
Trinity’s version differs from the nationwide project in several ways.
“For the Clothesline Project, it’s usually associated specifically with violence against women, but we wanted to open that up to be more inclusive of everyone on Trinity’s campus, not just females or female-identifying people but everybody,” said senior Hannah Braley, another project organizer.
Trinity’s Clothesline Project also extends beyond raising awareness for domestic violence, instead seeking to highlight many types of sexual injustice. Each shirt color represents a different situation: Pink shirts indicate stories of rape or sexual assault. Purple stands for abuse due to sexual orientation. Green indicates domestic violence or childhood abuse, and yellow represents survivors of emotional, spiritual or verbal abuse. White honors deaths due to sexual violence.
Students were able to sign T-shirts in the Tiger’s Den starting last Thursday, March 21.
“When people come down, we tell them they can take as many shirts or as [few] shirts as they want,” said sophomore Ryanna Chouman, another organizer. “All we ask that they adhere to is that they don’t write any names on [the shirts], and then they correspond whatever they’re trying to tell survivors or whatever story they’re trying to share with the color of shirts that we’ve designated.”
The result is a colorful display of shirts zig-zagging across the Esplanade, bright and impossible to miss. Turkewitz explained that this visibility was by design.
“We wanted something that was a physical, visible representation of some of the effects of sexual violence, and just showing sheer numbers was really important to us because [sexual assault] is something that is really easily ignored,” Turkewitz said. “It’s easy to not go to a forum. It’s easy to not go to a meeting. It’s not easy to not see these T-shirts on campus.”
It also wasn’t easy to not see the names of specific campus groups called out in bold black letters on some of the shirts. Groups called out included sports teams and Greek life organizations.
One shirt listed Greek life organizations along with the men’s and women’s soccer, basketball and volleyball teams, each followed by a dash and the phrase, “you hurt my friends.”
“While you cannot specifically name people, and we would never want that — we don’t want to foster this culture of pointing and blaming, although we do think transparency is really important — there have been certain groups on campus, specifically within Greek life and certain sports teams, that have been called out on these T-shirts,” Braley said. “We’re not censoring that because we think that’s a part of people’s stories, and it’s going to bring about a conversation on campus, hopefully.”
Despite the specific callouts on some shirts, Chouman believes that issues of sexual assault are not solely the fault of certain groups or even the actions of the perpetrators themselves.
“Campus culture is a really big hit word right now, and it’s not really something that’s created by specific perpetrators of assault or the administration,” Chouman said. “Every single person that lives on this campus, that breathes on this campus, that does any action on this campus is a direct influence over our campus culture.”
Though the Coalition for Sexual Justice hopes to spark productive conversations with the Clothesline Project, this is only the beginning of what they have planned. In the future, the Coalition hopes to push for large-scale research to be done about sexual assault on Trinity’s campus.
“A lot of students have been strong advocators for more research to be done about Trinity-specific campus culture, campus climate, where [sexual assault] happens and what leads to it,” Turkewitz said. “There was a survey sent out two years ago now … The information about the survey is very unclear. Right now, we’re just strongly pushing for more research to be done and better research to be done.”
For now, Braley is happy to have given a voice to survivors with the Clothesline Project.
“I like that the Clothesline Project is one of the first really big things that the Coalition is doing, is because it is not us going out and telling people what sexual injustice is or what we think about it. It is providing spaces for survivors and for supporters to share their voices,” Braley said. “We want to create more spaces like that on campus, because that’s where more progress is made.”
Because of the polar responses to the project, Ty Tinker — junior and president of Student Government Association (SGA) — welcomed students to attend the SGA meeting on Wednesday, the first day the T-shirts were publicized.
A handful of students attended the meeting to express their concerns about the project. Two of the project’s organizers were also in attendance.
“I don’t think it was a good way to go about what the project was trying to do,” said Malisse Lummus, a junior who attended the meeting. “There was no warning about it until midday today, and I’m very upset about that.”
Lummus referenced two emails that were sent to students between 2–3 p.m. on Wednesday that included trigger warnings for the project’s confrontational nature. Earlier that day, Braley also posted a warning in the Overheard at Trinity Facebook page, and the event was also mentioned on various posts on social media by Coalition members.
“We realize that we were too late with the trigger warning, and we completely recognize that. This is our first time doing the project, and we want to be able to continue this project on campus, and we want as much feedback as possible as to how we can improve it,” Braley said in response to Lummus at the SGA meeting. “We want to know how best we can support our survivors on campus because that is what this entire project is about, and we don’t want anyone feeling unsafe or uncomfortable walking on their own campus.”
Braley added that the Coalition has reach out to the Rape Crisis Center, as well as the Diversity and Inclusion Office and the university chaplain for their support and attendance of the demonstration throughout the week. Braley also emphasized the learning process of this project.
Benjamin Brody, a junior, also attended the SGA meeting to express his concerns about the execution of the demonstration, specifically its location.
“I’m here both as a survivor and as a representative for some of my female peers who didn’t feel comfortable outing themselves as survivors,” Brody said at the meeting. “The location next to Counseling Services makes it hard for students who don’t want to out themselves as survivors or appear needing to seek that assistance recommended in the emails … Additionally, the Esplanade is a place that a lot of people have to get to. It’s not a place people can avoid.”
Brody recognized why the Coalition chose the Esplanade as the location for the project, but said he thought separating the visceral component from the display would benefit survivors who are not ready to confront the strong messages.
The display will be up through this Friday, March 29. Students involved in the Coalition for Sexual Justice will be tabling near the display for anyone who wishes to sign a shirt.
with additional reporting by Kathleen Creedon, executive print editor
| Class of 2020 | Major: English | Minor: Creative Writing