Inaugural ‘What Were You Wearing’ gallery challenges rape culture

Clothes worn by survivors of sexual assault during the time they were assaulted are hanging in an Argyros Forum hallway as part of Chapman’s inaugural “What Were You Wearing” gallery. The clothes range from a child’s dress to pajamas and workout clothes. Photo by Gabriella Anderson

While walking through Argyros Forum after leaving a class or heading to the student lounge, students may notice a child’s red dress, a pair of pajamas, or a black party dress hanging on a wall.

The halls of Argyros Forum are usually decorated with “I Am Chapman” portraits, student projects and Chapman’s distinguishable symbol, the fenestra. But during April, the hall adjacent to Einstein’s Bagels and Jamba Juice will also be home to the “What Were You Wearing” gallery, that shares stories of assault survivors and shows what they were wearing when assaulted.

“(Survivors) might not get justice through the legal system or other formal avenues, but it is a personal way for them to tell their story,” said Dani Smith, Chapman’s rape crisis counselor and coordinator for Creating a Rape-free Environment for Students (C.A.R.E.S.).

This marks the first year that the C.A.R.E.S.-sponsored monthlong event has taken place at Chapman. The project, which began in 2013 at the University of Arkansas, was created by Jen Brockman, the director of the university’s sexual assault prevention and education center, and university health educator, Dr. Mary Wyandt-Hiebert. It is now a fixture at schools like the University of Kansas, the University of Florida and Ohio University.

The exhibit aims to challenge stigmas surrounding rape culture and debunk the idea that sexual assault survivors’ clothing plays a part in their assault.

“This wall represents that people believe survivors,” Smith said. “If we can provide comfort to another human being who has been violated, that is what is important.”

The wall displays clothes loaned by survivors, as well as items similar to the descriptions provided by survivors. Each hanging outfit is accompanied by an informational card with the survivor’s story.

Smith told The Panther that the wall chosen for the gallery, which is located away from the main student hubs in Argyros Forum, was an intentional decision – as some students may find the stories and content triggering.

“What part of my outfit said I wanted that?” said a card that accompanied a set of pajamas.

“Can I bring you some tea? He ended up assaulting me,” said another.

Other events held by C.A.R.E.S. include “Take Back the Night,” an evening dedicated to survivors of sexual assault and interpersonal violence, and the Clothesline Project, an event where students can share their experiences with assault or violence, or write uplifting phrases for survivors on t-shirts hung around campus.

“If someone comes to you and tells you their story, believe them,” Smith said. “We’re all in this together.”