What were you wearing?
The Sociology Club is hosting the Survivor Art Installation 9 a.m.-4 p.m. April 8-11 on the first floor of the Central Academic Building as part of Sexual Harassment Awareness Month.
“What Were You Wearing?” is a collection that has traveled to universities around the country since 2013. This is its first time at Texas A&M University-San Antonio — and only the second time it has been in Texas; Baylor University displayed the collection in 2017.
The installation consists of stories written by assault survivors and the stories are accompanied by replicas of the clothing the survivors wore when they were attacked. It was created at the University of Arkansas by Dr. Wyandt-Hiebert and Dr. Jennifer Brockman, based on a poem titled “What I Was Wearing” by Dr. Mary Simmerling. The poem describes in detail what she was wearing the day she was attacked.
Axel Esparza, sociology senior and event organizer, said victims give detailed descriptions of what they were wearing is because that’s usually the first question a victim is asked when they tell someone they’ve been attacked. He said this puts the blame on the victim as if their clothing choice was the motivation behind the attack. The point of this event is to tell victims it’s not their fault and the clothing doesn’t matter.
“We’ve had some students who’ve wanted to represent their stories with us,” Esparza said. “For example, this morning a student came up to me and she expressed how happy she was that there’s finally someone that’s coming up with an event that represents all the students on campus because she felt there wasn’t enough for them.”
Esparza said the Sociology Club was interested in sponsoring an event in support of Sexual Harassment Awareness Month and found out about the collection through social media. He did some research and emailed one of the installation’s creators, Brockman.
“I saw an article about all the campuses that were doing it,” Esparza said. “I want to do something similar. How can I do this or how can you help me?”
Brockman said she would be happy to send the collection and noted he was the first student to request it; usually requests come from faculty or staff. She also added that the university could keep the installation as long as needed, but to add to the collection to make it more unique and personal to the students at A&M-San Antonio. Esparza said after talking to one of the students, he already has one story he might be able to add to the collection.
“One of the things she wanted to know was if she could present her own story,” Esparza said. “So she might represent it depending on if she feels comfortable with it.”
Volunteers from several other campus clubs and organizations are assisting the Sociology Club with this four-day event including the Counseling and Wellness Center, Mexican-American Student Association, Pre-Health Club, Business Club, Student Government Association, Campus Activities Board and Delta Chi.
Virginia Coronado, business administration senior and MASA volunteer, said she wanted to help with this event because she has family members very close to her who have gone through this process.
“It’s very sad because whenever they do tell you their story, it’s a little heartbreaking because you don’t know how to respond,” Coronado said. “You don’t want to be cold, but at the same time, you don’t want them to feel like it’s their fault. The most helpful thing is just talking.”
She said it’s important to be careful not to bombard them with questions. Victims of violence often feel like you are attacking them when you ask one question after another.
“It’s nice to just hear them out,” Coronado said. “Because you can’t get over it in just a couple of months, weeks or days…it’s a process so it’s just nice to understand that.”
Another volunteer, sociology junior Catherine Millard, said women often don’t realize when they’re victims of sexual assault or sexual abuse that they alter their lives in various ways because of that experience. She said, for example, many victims don’t like to have people walking behind them.
“It’s about fear and it’s about carrying that fear with you of something ever happening again,” Millard said. “And altering how you act in the future because of that experience.”
Millard added that victims in the African-American community, especially young girls, are labeled as “fast” or quick for their age and that’s why they were attacked. She said instead of treating them as children or victims and protecting them, some victims are treated as if they brought the attack upon themselves and should be ashamed of themselves.
Sociology senior Tiffany Najera said there is a similar stigma associated with women from older generations. She said most won’t talk about their assault because they are ashamed. Najera added that in the past, it was common for assault victims to hear they probably just misunderstood the situation or to just keep quiet. She said they can carry those experiences around for life, which is why events like these are so important and why it is so important to talk to someone.
“Here on campus, we do have the counseling services and they’re here to help,” Najera said. “We’ll give the vouchers out to where you can talk to them. There’s also violence prevention and the police here on campus are always here to talk to you.”
Esparza said most schools have displayed the collection by hanging the clothing on walls for students to view, but the A&M-San Antonio event will feature live models wearing the clothing. They will also have flyers to pass out with the survivor’s stories for students to read, literature to hand out to students on violence prevention and vouchers for on-campus counseling services for students in need of those services.
Click here for more information about “What Were You Wearing?” Survivor Art Installation.
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