From April 11-14, the Clothesline Project and Take Back the Night events will kick off at The University of Southern Mississippi on Weathersby Lawn, located between Shoemaker Square and the Walker Science Building on the Hattiesburg campus.
Michelle Howard, a counselor at the Student Counseling Services said this year the events are a combined effort by the Student Counseling Services, Shafer Center for Crisis Intervention, Committee on Services and Resources for Women, the College of Arts and Letters and Alpha Chi Omega Sorority. The events are free and open to the public.
The two events are part of a sexual assault and domestic violence campaign known as It’s on Us. The White House established the campaign, and USM adopted it in collaboration with said sponsors and the Student Government Association in 2014. The campaign began in February on the Hattiesburg campus and will end after the Take Back the Night event.
The Clothesline Project, a national violence awareness and prevention program that began in 1990, will display T-shirts created by survivors of violence or in honor of someone who has experienced violence on a clothesline for the public to view during the week.
Blank T-shirts will be offered free of charge for anyone wishing to share his or her story. The project will also include resource information related to violence against women. The shirts can be made on Weathersby Lawn and dropped off at a later time.
Howard said she is a survivor of sexual assault and participated in both of these events when she was in college in 2003. About three years ago, Howard became involved in the events as one of the coordinators.
According to Howard, both the Clothesline Project and the Take Back the Night events will educate and provide awareness of sexual violence against women and help with empowerment and support to survivors of sexual violence.
“The Clothesline Project bears witness to the survivors, as well as the victims of the war against women help, with the healing process for people who have lost a loved one or are survivors of this violence,” Howard said.
Howard said the project also educates, documents and raises society’s awareness to the extensive problems of violence against women.
Take Back the Night, a national movement to end sexual violence and support victims of sexual violence, will be hosted at USM on April 14 from 6:30-8:30 p.m. following the Clothesline Project on Weathersby Lawn.
Take Back the Night is a public forum to unite efforts and strength to “Shatter the Silence and Stop the Violence.” The event will feature a keynote speaker, a public speak out for survivors, candlelight vigil, special musical guest Tyler Tisdale, free drinks and snacks and resource information tables hosted by the University Police Department, the Spectrum Center, Domestic Abuse Family Shelter and more.
“Take Back the Night will help provide support resources, empowerment and a voice to survivors and work on ending sexual violence in all forms, including sexual assault, sexual abuse, dating violence and domestic violence,” Howard said.
Howard said rape, sexual assault, sexual abuse and domestic violence are often labeled as “crimes of silence” because of low reporting rates and social discomfort with their public discussion. By “shattering the silence on sexual violence,” survivors can let go of feelings of loneliness and know that these crimes are not tolerated.
Ava Wolf, director of the “It’s on Us” campaign, is also a victim of sexual assault. Wolf said the “It’s on Us” campaign and the events that go with it help USM in many ways, however, the biggest way it helps is by educating the students of the university by creating a conversation about domestic violence, bringing awareness to the signs of sexual assault and domestic violence, preventing the events from occurring and helping campus members if either happens to one of them.
“We are showing USM survivors of sexual of sexual assault and/ or domestic violence that they go to a school that is supportive and caring and wants them to succeed,” Wolf said.
Wolf said these events are national campaigns and programs that allow USM to be a part of something bigger than itself. USM is part of a movement that is taking over the nation.
“On a smaller scale, though, this brings awareness to the surrounding Mississippi communities through articles that have been printed or posted and through all of the various social media posts,” Wolf said.
Wolf said videos and posts on social media were shared constantly during the “It’s on Us” week of action, which allowed for the message to reach a bigger audience.
Amanda Blanchard, vice president of philanthropy for Alpha Chi Omega, said her sorority, alongside the other sponsors, have worked endlessly to shed light on this issue and prevent violence. She said she has been blessed with the opportunity to aid in planning the Clothesline Project and the Take Back the Night events.
“I am beyond ecstatic to see the Shafer Center flourish and conduct these phenomenal events to enlighten our community,” Blanchard said.
Blanchard said these series of events are the perfect opportunity to bring awareness to the Hattiesburg campus and to push students to combat the issue of sexual violence.
“It affects our campus every day, but is an issue that often gets swept under the rug because it is an uncomfortable topic,” Blanchard said. “Domestic violence will remain until we learn to shatter the silence, which is what these events are all about.”