Video By: J.J. Wortham and Lavisa Darling
T-shirts tell the story, stories of emotional abuse, physical abuse and rape.
October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month, and VSU’s Women’s and Gender Studies Program is committed to reminding students of the survivors and warning that it can happen to anyone.
The Women’s Gender Study Program, headed by Dr. Tracy Meyers, is a strong advocate for fighting against domestic violence and raising awareness on campus.
The program centers itself on the devotion of studying women and gender as social constructions, that intersect with class, race, age, ethnicity, nationality, sexual orientation and sexual identity.
For the last five years, WGST has brought awareness to campus through various events, and each event holds a significant meaning—a special one being the Clothesline Project.
As a part of Domestic Violence Awareness Month, over 800 shirts can be found on VSU’s Pedestrian Mall, hanging and waving freely in the air by clotheslines tied to poles and trees, each one telling a story by an abuse victim or a loved one.
From Monday until Friday, these shirts will hang proudly, silently fighting against domestic violence one by one.
“We consider ourselves activist scholars,” Dr. Meyers said. “Therefore part of our mission is to educate about and fight against social injustices and oppressions. We want to let people know about the violence that women and girls experience on our campus, in our community, our country, and world.”
Jennifer Keene, a volunteer and graduate assistant for WGST for three years, helped put up the clothesline.
“I actually videotaped last year, people walking around and looking at the T-shirts,” Keene said. “And just watching people’s reaction when they find a T-shirt that, I think, really speaks to them or maybe somebody they know or a situation that happened and really seeing the interconnectedness of humankind when that happens is really interesting.”
The clothesline project was first started in October 2006 by WGST as one of the events to fight against domestic violence.
Since then, the programs has not only collected many shirts by students on campus but called out to others to tell their testimony as well.
Senior Joseph Ellow, a sociology major and mass media minor, was motivated to share his T-shirt story for the clothesline project a few years ago, believing in the cause and what it provided for the students.
The movement started two decades ago, moving from one community to the next and claiming the purple ribbon as a symbol for the fight against domestic violence.
Starting in the fall of 1990 in Cape Code, Ma., women started to tell their stories and display them on shirts in the efforts to address the issue of violence against women.
The shirts soon became a vehicle for the women to express themselves all over the nation—one particular area being VSU campus.
Through the Clothesline Project’s purpose, people are allowed to see who survived, acknowledged those who didn’t and put an end to the silence.
In 1996, a national report showed that 32 percent of students report dating violence by a previous partner and 21 percent report violence by a current partner.
A report in 1998 showed 39 to 54 percent of dating violence victims remain in physically abusive relationships.
Victims are kept quiet and are often put aside—not knowing that the person beside you could have their very own story.
Alvinette Patterson, a sociology major, has been with the clothesline project for five years and feels as though people do not know how to recognize domestic violence because it has become a normalized part of our society.
“The idea that someone ‘deserves’ to be hit or belittled back in his or her place has been seen everywhere—from the media to our daily lives,” Patterson said.
“If we are going to bring down the rates of violence against women, we will need a far reaching cultural revolution,” Dr. Meyers said. “The revolution must be about changing the sexist social norms of male culture. Until men join the fight, there is no chance that the violence will be dramatically reduced. We do these projects to help change the male culture and sexist social norms.”