PEORIA — “What Were You Wearing?” was so powerful that organizers put warning signs at the entrances to Markin Family Student Recreation Center.
The weeklong exhibit at Bradley University addressed one of our culture’s most pervasive rape myths, using the stories of actual rape victims.
The warning signs provided visitors with the phone numbers for Bradley Health Services Counseling and the Center for Prevention of Abuse, in case they needed someone to talk to after viewing the exhibit.
“This is a very personal display, especially with the variety of outfits on display,” said Emily Panich, outreach counselor at BU. “A student who is a survivor may be able to find themselves in this display.”
The exhibit dispelled the notion that victims of sexual assault asked for it by what they were wearing. Twenty-five different stories were featured, and each included clothing similar to what victims were wearing when they were attacked.
Clothing ranged from the much-vilified short dress to baggy jeans and office-appropriate garb.
The exhibit originated at the University of Arkansas in 2013. Inspired by Dr. Mary Simmerling’s poem “What I Was Wearing,” organizers interviewed student-survivors from the university who shared descriptions of what they were wearing when they experienced sexual violence.
Universities across the country have displayed the exhibit. This is the first time it’s been at Bradley.
“It was my idea to bring it to BU,” said Panich. “I thought it would be very powerful.”
Panich enlisted the help of the Center for Prevention of Abuse, which donated clothing for the exhibits and also set up an informational table. Panich obtained additional clothing at Goodwill.
The exhibit was hung late last Sunday night, and students first saw it early Monday.
“We’ve had a lot of positive reaction from students and staff,” said Panich. “People have said that it’s eye-opening and that they gained a lot of new perspective.”
The exhibit made it clear that sexual assault can happen to anyone, regardless of age or gender. Several stories were told by male victims, and several exhibits included multiple outfits, representing multiple attacks over the course of the victim’s life.
The exhibit was open to the public Friday but was to be taken down Friday night.
The exhibit probably won’t be displayed every year at BU, but Panich said it probably will be again.
“It really brings attention to a topic we don’t talk enough about,” she said.
Leslie Renken can be reached at 686-3250 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter.com/LeslieRenken, and subscribe to her on Facebook.com/leslie.renken.