Southern Miss is currently partnering with the Shafer Center for Crisis Intervention to host an exhibit in the Cook Library Art Gallery as a part of the “What were you wearing?” movement.
The “What were you wearing?” campaign began at the University of Kansas as a means of combating the myth that one’s clothing choices could be the source of an assault.
The campaign itself was inspired by the poem, “What I was Wearing,” by Mary Simmerling.
Survivors of sexual assault offered testimonies regarding the clothes they were wearing when they were assaulted, and recreations of those outfits were assembled and displayed so that people could view them and empathize.
Southern Miss’ Committee on Services and Resources for Women caught wind of this movement through the media and felt that message of the campaign was important. Given that April is National Sexual Assault Awareness Month, the CSRW had been looking for a way to recognize assault survivors in the Hattiesburg area.
“Our hope is that our campus and Hattiesburg community is able to view the collection and realize the pervasiveness of the problem of sexual assault, as well as understand that what one wears has nothing to do with being targeted for sexual assault,” Melanie Leuty, a member of the CSRW and one of the leading members of this project, said.
The CSRW contacted the project organizer, Jennifer Brockman from the University of Kansas, to determine what resources would be needed for Southern Miss to host an exhibit. Needing a cosponsor from a local sexual assault advocacy group, Leuty contacted the director of the Shafer Crisis Center, Kim Newell.
The CSRW wanted to get other organizations on campus involved in the exhibit so that the event would be more visible, so Leuty and her colleague Stacy Creel reached out to a number of campus organizations and offices through email to see if any would like to sponsor a survivor story.
A total of 15 organizations on campus committed to sponsoring a survivor story. Those that did were shared the list of 50 survivor stories that described each survivor’s account of what she/he was wearing when sexually assaulted so that they could select one or more to sponsor. From there, each organization was responsible for obtaining clothing to recreate the described outfits.
The Sexual Assault Prevention Ambassadors was one of 15 on-campus organizations that participated.
SAPA Vice President Amanda Pridgen said that seeing the outfits give the testimonies a further sense of authenticity.
“The incorporation of the outfits and the stories that go along with them make the experience real and fill the audience with that emotional feeling of, ‘Wow, this actually happens,’” Pridgen said. “I hope the display will show people the reality of sexual assault and hopefully raise awareness – show that sexual assault can happen to anyone, no matter what age, race, gender or sex.”
“I am hoping that this has facilitated some conversation, some boiling blood on the subject of sexual assault, and some more people ready to stand with us and join the fight to end sexual assaults for good,” SAPA President Selma Newbill said.
Southern Miss’ “What were you wearing?” exhibit is currently set up in the Cook Art Gallery, and the outfits will remain on display until the end of May.