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Students participate in Clothesline Project

| Wednesday, April 22, 2015

T-shirts with striking messages about sexual and interpersonal violence were strung from clotheslines outside of O’Shaughnessy Hall Monday at noon, and will remain hanging for the duration of the week.

Each one of the 15 shirts — decorated with phrases such as “She turned her shame into power” and “It was not your fault” — is the work of a survivor of sexual assault or of someone impacted, directly or indirectly, by interpersonal violence.

Regina Gesicki, Assistant Director of Educational Initiatives for the Gender Relations Center (GRC), said the idea behind hanging the shirts is to allow victims of assault to speak out in an anonymous yet still highly conspicuous fashion.

“They [the shirts] are right in that high traffic area outside O’Shaughnessy, so students walking to DeBartolo in that corridor can see them, faculty and people in O’Shaughnessy can see them, and it’s really just a reminder of people in our community who have been hurt by things that happened in their past or things that happened to them here,” Gesicki said.  “It’s up to us to notice that and see what we can do to change that for the better.”

According to the GRC website, the shirts are part of a GRC initiative for Sexual Violence Awareness Month called the Clothesline Project.  Gesicki said Notre Dame has participated in the Clothesline Project since 2009, although the project first began in Massachusetts in 1990 and has since become a national movement.

The national website for the Clothesline Project stated the original purpose of the project was to commemorate victims of sexual assault and to provide “a vehicle for women affected by violence to express their emotions by decorating a shirt.”

The Clothesline Project here at Notre Dame has similar objectives, Gesicki said, but Notre Dame’s installment of the project commemorates all victims, male or female, of interpersonal violence.

She said the shirts are a visual, artistic protest against violence, which, by nature of their very visibility on campus, raise community awareness about assault.

“It’s visible, but it’s not forceful,” Gesicki said.  “It allows people to encounter it in whatever way they feel comfortable.

“It’s just another way to reach a different group of people and bring this issue that is in the news on our campus and in the wider news to people’s attention, and to challenge them to think of what they can do personally to make the community safer for everyone.”

Senior Deirdre Harrington, a FIRE Starter for the GRC, said the Clothesline Project helps to draw attention to the fact that sexual assault and violence impact the entire community.

“It’s important to realize that this is an issue that affects everyone regardless of whether or not you actually think you know a survivor or consciously know a survivor,” she said.  “It really is such a harm to our community at Notre Dame and we all do have the responsibility to step up and be our brother’s and sister’s keeper.”

Harrington said the Clothesline Project also provides a way for students and faculty to engage in a dialogue about how to address the issue of sexual violence — an issue which has received renewed attention owing to recent reports of sexual assault and campus viewings of “The Hunting Ground.”

“I think it’s really important to continue these conversations that have been happening on campus, especially surrounding ‘The Hunting Ground,’” she said.  “And I think this is a way that this conversation can keep going.”

Other events happening this week regarding sexual violence awareness and prevention include the annual Take Back the Night, which will begin tonight at 5:30 p.m. and consist of a prayer vigil, march and dinner, and Denim Day, an all-day event occurring this Friday to bring attention to the issue of victim-blaming.

Gesicki said that in conjunction with Take Back the Night and Denim Day, the Clothesline Project demonstrates the Notre Dame community’s desire to improve campus safety and to reach out to victims of violence.

“I think it [the Clothesline Project] operates in tandem with the other events this week, to bring awareness to the fact that we do have a community that is supportive of those who have experienced violence,” she said. “It’s a community that includes survivors, and also people who have walked with them through the violence that’s been committed against them.

“We’re not perfect yet — I think that’s one takeaway — but we continue to work towards ways to make this community safer for everyone in it.”

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