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Student focuses senior project on topic of campus sexual assault

| Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Senior design major Mary Kate Healey said she tries to think of her major as problem-solving.

In the spring of their junior year, design majors propose an idea for their big final project. Healey said when coming up with an idea she mulled through the things she was really passionate about and eventually decided she wanted to do something raising awareness for sexual assault, specifically at Notre Dame and Saint Mary’s.

IMG_8113Mary-Kate Healey

“We always hear about statistics, we get crime emails,” Healey said. “There’s a lot of impersonal information passed around. It’s very statistics driven and there’s also the kind of hidden shame and embarrassment that comes with it.

“I wanted to collect these very intimate stories and display them in a very public, unapologetic way while still maintaining the story of the storyteller.”

Healey’s project is a 9-foot wide and 4-foot tall white sheet with quotes from sexual assault stories from students at Notre Dame and Saint Mary’s. The quotes were first written out on the sheet and then Healey went back and stitched them on afterwards.

“The reason I’m doing the stitching is because there’s a lot of art history between women and the domestic craft,” she said. “Women have always been making art, but because they didn’t necessarily have the resources, doing domestic crafts like creating clothing, embroidery, cross-stitch, quilting … those were never considered art because those women weren’t considered artists.”

Healey said stitching and embroidery has been used a lot among feminist artists such as suffragettes and most recently on signs at the Women’s March on Washington.

“I wanted to tap into that history,” Healey said.

Healey said use of a sheet as her canvas was purposeful; the fabric itself holds a double meaning since a bed should be considered a safe place for rest, but that for many people “it often becomes a crime scene.”

Healey went through the Institutional Review Board since her project technically counted as human research and had to be declared ethical before she could proceed. After it was approved by the board, she went on with a survey that she circulated and received 64 responses from. On April 7, her project will be put on display at the Snite Museum of Art.

Healey said the act of sewing itself was so laborious and that it took her several hours to sew even a sentence, however, that was not the most difficult aspect of the project.

“The hardest part of it has been the emotional toll of it,” she said. “A lot of these people revealed very upsetting stories and I don’t know if I anticipated going into it how difficult it would be.”

One story that stood out, Healey said, was a submission that was in the form of a poem. She said what was striking was that each line of the poem started of with “he was a friend of mine.” Healey said the way the poem ended powerfully when the student wrote, “I wish trying to erase my pain hadn’t caused me more pain.”

Because she wanted the project to be collaborative, Healey started a sewing circle to create dialogue in a very straightforward way. The group has met five times so far and she said everyone is welcome to join, and most of those who have joined did not have prior sewing experience.

Healey said she received some negative responses from her survey from people who had misconceptions about rape on campus and thought that it was not as prevalent a problem as she was making it out to be. She said her hope is that her project expels these “rape myths” and raises awareness.

“I think people also just don’t understand that it could happen to anyone,” she said. “It happens to tons of people, so I think that just the way people interact with each other, the way people look out for each other, the way people speak with each other … I just want people to be more conscious of that and to have the courage to engage in these conversations.”

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About Selena Ponio

Selena Ponio is from Dallas, Texas and is currently a senior at the University of Notre Dame. She is the Associate News Editor for The Observer. Selena lives in Breen-Phillips hall and is majoring in International Economics with a concentration in Spanish and is minoring in Journalism, Ethics & Democracy.

Contact Selena