“What Were You Wearing, Waco?” art exhibit aims to reduce stigma around sexual assault

By Caroline Grace | Contributor

2018 will go down in history as the year that our country shed an inextinguishable light on sexual assault, from Congress to Hollywood, from #MeToo to “Times Up.” This April is not only National Sexual Assault Awareness Month, when campuses all over the nation will make a pointed statement against sexual violence, it is also the culmination of moments into a movement to free survivors from shame, to deliver justice and to encourage all of us to see the humanity in one another.

Working closely with Baylor’s Title IX office, Waco’s Family Abuse Center and the Advocacy Center, the “It’s On Us” student advisory council has curated an art installation that will be on display at several locations in Waco and on Baylor’s campus throughout the month of April. The exhibit “What Were You Wearing, Waco?” powerfully illustrates that sexual assault is not sexual; it is criminal. Thirty sets of clothing –from sundresses to gym clothes to jeans and a T-shirt – are presented alongside nuanced stories from sexual assault survivors who were wearing either the same or similar clothes at the time of the incident.

“What Were You Wearing?” originated in 2013 with professors Jen Brockman of the University of Kansas and Dr. Mary A. Wyandt-Heibert of the University of Arkansas to engage conversation around campus sexual assault in a visual, personal and provoking medium. Their work delivered a clear message to survivors: You are not responsible for the crime that was done to you.

As a part of the exhibit curated for Waco, you will find teal doors and teal lights – the color used to designate sexual assault awareness. We hope the exhibit sparks dialogue and begins to change perceptions about sexual violence in our community. Our exhibit is the first outdoor iteration of the project, with each set of clothing displayed on a door to symbolize how acts of sexual violence often occur behind closed doors.

It is our responsibility, specifically as a Baylor family, to open those doors and bring these acts to light. By placing the stories of survivors in a communal space, we are bringing the truth about sexual violence into the open and debunking harmful myths about interpersonal violence: Clothes are not a marker of morality.

“What Were You Wearing, Waco?” debuts tonight. The exhibit is in the breezeway between Austin’s on the Avenue and the Edison building, directly across from Cultivate7twelve, Waco’s new downtown art gallery. After experiencing the art installation as a part of First Friday Waco, join us for an opening reception at the gallery with refreshments and conversation with advocates.

Can’t make it tonight? We will be in downtown Waco from 4 p.m. to midnight through April 14 and on Baylor’s campus from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. from April 16 to 26 in Vara Martin Daniel Plaza near the Bill Daniel Student Center. After the month-long conversation, we will be reflecting together at Jesus Said Love’s Art Gallery for a closing reception at 5 p.m. on April 27. In addition to the exhibit, there will be individual doors traveling to places which may not normally or openly address sexual assault, such as congregations and classrooms.

Ending sexual violence is not as easy as changing our clothes. Instead, it requires us to evaluate what enables us to ask questions like “What were you wearing?” in the first place.

Caroline Grace is a senior medical humanities major from Fort Worth. She is president of the “It’s On Us” Student Advisory Council for Baylor’s Title IX Office.