The Clothesline Project: Empowering and giving a voice to survivors

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Jimmy Lai/HIGHLANDER

When walking through the colorful shirts hung up on a chain link fence set up for the Clothesline Project a visual display to bring awareness of violence against women, men and children one is moved by the messages written on them. “Enough is Enough” reads a shirt that has three small rips held together by a band-aid. Another reads, “The only memory of my father is him beating my mother. I was 1 year old at the time.”

The display is for the annual Clothesline Project, held from October 23-26 on Watkins Lawn, sponsored by the Women’s Resource Center, S.A.V.E. and the CARE office.

The Clothesline Project is a national event that began in 1990 when “a group of women found that 58,000 soldiers were killed during one year of the Vietnam War, and in that same year, 51,000 women were killed by their partners. Disturbed by this, the women set out to ‘air society’s dirty laundry,’” per the organization’s website. The project has been held at UCR for 16 years.

Romanie Arterberry, the student life and development specialist for UCR’s Women’s Resource Center, shares that the project is a “teachable moment to educate our campus about relationship violence and domestic violence. We are putting a voice to that and encouraging people to talk about it that you are not alone, that there is support and resources for them.”

Each shirt color represents a different type of violent act committed towards women, men or children. Black represents women who were attacked for political reasons. Purple represents women who were attacked due to their sexual orientation. Yellow represents women who were assaulted or battered. Gray represents survivors of gang rape. White represents women who died due to violence. Green and blue represent survivors of incest and sexual abuse, respectively. Red, orange and pink represents survivors of rape and sexual assault.

Alana Anguren, a fourth-year gender and sexuality studies major and CARE advocate, has participated in the Clothesline Project for four years. Anguren feels that “the impact has stayed the same” since participating her first year, “but the issue has become more known. People are more vocal and there is more programming about it.”

The issue Anguren refers to is the widespread nature of sexual and relationship violence. According to a campus sexual assault study, “One in 5 women and one in 16 men are sexually assaulted while in college.” At first, Anguren was not comfortable discussing the issues, but being a part of the Clothesline Project has empowered her to “talk about it to give a voice to those who haven’t.”

The Clothesline Project has not just raised awareness about domestic and relationship violence, but it has also empowered those affected and even provided them a way to heal.

“I think that when students write and design a shirt, and they see it year after year, it empowers them. They see it and remember that time but they are stronger since that incident. That’s why we save the shirts from year to year,” Arterberry shares. After someone experiences sexual or domestic violence, things will be different for them, creating a new outlook that Arterberry describes as “a new normal because it will never be the way it was before.”

While looking at the shirts, Abigail Cortes, a second-year biology major who works at the Women’s Resource Center, noticed some had Spanish words and phrases written on them. Cortes is proud of her heritage and to have grown up in a traditional Latino family. Within her culture, domestic and relationship violence were not openly discussed. Cortes appreciated the Spanish on the shirts, and it encouraged her to participate for the first time in the project. “Watching everybody make shirts and looking at all the other shirts made me want to make one for myself,” Cortes said.

This is the second year Dhariau Campbell, a fourth-year creative writing major, has been working at the Women’s Resource Center and on the Clothesline Project. “It’s very inspiring to see the different things people put up,” she states. On Wednesday, “a lady put up a shirt about her niece who passed away because of domestic violence and it opened my eyes,” Campbell shares. “It’s very inspiring for people to share personal stories.”

Compared to last year, the amount of people participating in the project has doubled. “Before we used to get about nine shirts a day,” says WRC Program Coordinator Nathaly Martinez. “Now we are getting 15 shirts a day.” First-year biology major Zoe Reyes did not anticipate the sheer amount of people that would participate in the project. Reyes making the shirt was symbolic, as she has had personal experience regarding the issues within her own family.

Martinez spoke on this. “A lot of the individuals who do shirts have never spoken up or have never even processed what happened to them,” she explains, “It’s very powerful when you can design a shirt and voice that without having to put your face to it.” This is also Martinez’s fourth year involved with the clothesline project.

As this year’s Clothesline drew to a close, the effect it had on the students who both made and read the shirts will persist, and its message can be surmised in what Reyes posited following the event: “You might as well speak up to the things that matter to you because they matter to so much more people.”

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