‘It’s On Us’ art exhibit supports sexual assault survivors

Temple junior Tristen Coffee and Houston junior Susan Sullivan visit the "What Were You Wearing, Waco?" exhibit on Austin Avenue Thursday. Baylee VerSteeg | Multimedia Journalist

by Molly Atchison | Print Managing Editor

In honor of National Sexual Assault Awareness Month, Baylor’s It’s On Us organization is partnering with the Waco Family Abuse Center, the Waco Advocacy Center and Baylor to bring awareness to the issues of sexual assault and interpersonal violence. Baylor Title IX and It’s on Us have organized an art exhibit titled “What were you wearing?” It will be displayed in downtown Waco from today until April 14, on Baylor’s campus from April 16-28 and on McLennan Community College’s campus until the end of April.

The exhibit displays a collection of articles of clothing worn by sexual assault victims during their assaults on movable doors. It is meant to “bring what happens behind closed doors and stigmas that are nurtured in closed minds to an outdoor space and debunk the myth that a survivor could have prevented the attack by wearing something different,” a March 20 press release said. The exhibit will be formally presented to the public in conjunction with Cultivate7twelve art galleries’ Gallery Night on April 6.

“We have all of those outfits posted on doors to kind of represent the idea that all of these assaults happened behind closed doors, and we’re now opening those doors to shed light on assault,” said San Antonio junior Paige Hardy, It’s on Us member. “The goal of the exhibit is to try to have people see themselves in the shoes of sexual assault survivors and to show them that it’s not what you were wearing that caused a person to be assaulted; it’s the person who assaulted them.”

The president of It’s On Us, Fort Worth senior Caroline Grace, said that It’s On Us has been in the process of a transition. “It’s On Us is currently in the transition from being an arm under the Title IX department to being an official student activities organization,” Grace said. “We are grateful to be in frequent communication with the interim Title IX Coordinator and the Prevention Specialist, who is our informal advisor, and we have no intention of cutting ties with our friends and advocates in the Title IX office. The organizers and leadership in this group simply deserve the stability that would come with being an official student organization over the ever-changing tides of bureaucratic hoopla. Until that is solidified, we will continue to utilize our resources in student government, in the Title IX office, and in the local Waco community to bolster our cause.”

The organization got the idea for the “What were you wearing?” project from similar exhibit, which was put on in 2013 by Kansas University. The Waco exhibit has been a year-long work in progress. “It’s been a lot of hard work and intentional conversations to try and get the ball rolling,” Hardy said.

The opening night of the exhibit will include speakers, who are either survivors themselves or friends and family of survivors speaking on how they handled their loved-one’s assault. Hardy said the organization has had a massive amount of support from the Waco community. Panera offered to cater the opening night and Austin’s on the Avenue has offered their space for the speaking portion of the event. After the opening of the exhibit, the display will be transported around Waco, stopping at the Waco Family Abuse Center, Jesus Said Love gallery and several churches in the area.

“We want to challenge people to engage with the universal connection we have with clothing and reflect on what gives this particular rape culture myth so much power in the first place,” said Geneece Goertzen, Waco Family Abuse Center board member in the press release. “The clothing is not to blame for the assault. People in everyday clothing are still sexually assaulted. When assessing sexual violence, the only question that matters is consent. But rape culture has caused some people to assert that clothing matters, which shifts the focus off the obvious reason for the assault – because the attacker was a rapist.”

The exhibit will also be displayed on Baylor’s campus from April 16-28. Hardy said the goal is to make sure the community is having meaningful and important conversations early, in order to prevent a situation like the sexual assault scandal that happened at Baylor last year.

For members of the Waco community wanting to become involved in the conversation, the “What were you wearing?” exhibit can offer meaningful and informative opportunities and resources, and aims to end stigmas and lift up survivors of sexual assault.