Painful memories shared, comfort found with The Clothesline Project

Rather than the ghouls and goblins usually found during Halloween, UVU’s Center for Social Impact explored some of the actual horrors of life by participating in the Clothesline Project in UVU’s Grande Ballroom.

The National Clothesline Project is a way to create awareness for the prevalence of violence against women. Survivors can write messages on t-shirts to voice feelings and experiences, and the process of designing a t-shirt can be a way to share aspects of the abuse that they have kept silent before.

UVU has been participating in this campaign every year since 1998. All the shirts displayed in the Grande Ballroom were created by survivors in Utah, primarily in Utah County, and there was a section of the ballroom specifically set aside for shirts made this year.

“The death of Lauren McCluskey, the student from the U, helped bring this into perspective,” said Danielle Hardy, a junior psychology major and the student coordinator for the underserved. “I think so many people don’t realize and recognize this is something that happens here in Utah, to our friends, our families, our loved ones. So being able to use that almost as a platform to say this is happening all the time. It was good to bring awareness to that.”

McCluskey was shot and killed on Oct. 22 by her ex-boyfriend. A white t-shirt with her name was on display just outside the ballroom.   

Each of the t-shirt colors symbolized a different kind of abuse victim; white t-shirts represented someone who died because of violence, yellow represented a survivor of domestic violence, red, pink and orange all represented a survivor of rape or sexual assault, blue and green represented survivors of incest or childhood sexual abuse, purple represented someone who was attacked because of their sexual orientation, brown and gray represented survivors of emotional, spiritual, or verbal abuse and black represented those who are disabled as the result of an attack.

In addition to the shirts hung throughout the ballroom, there were sounds played that gave a visceral indication of how often these tragedies happen. A gong sound indicated someone being battered, a whistle was blown to indicate a reported rape and a bell was rung to indicate that someone had died in a violent attack.

“It seemed really meditative and peaceful here, with the constant bell going,” said Luise* a student who attended the event. “Then, once I figured out what it was, it almost was sorrowful. The noise was meditating, but it became something deeper. It changed to disbelief of how many of these people this is affecting in Utah.”

There was an area set aside behind curtains, where people could make their own shirts. Hardy said working at this part of the event was heartbreaking, and that seeing familiar faces come to write their experience was really impactful.

“It was pretty recent, like last month, so it was still pretty new,” said Adelle,* a student who had made a shirt. “Mine wasn’t as horrible as some of these and I don’t know that I would even call it rape, but it’s not something I wanted. I had said no before. I think [sharing] did help. I wasn’t going to, but then I read all of them and a lot of them had similar feelings to me so I thought maybe I should put mine up. Maybe it will help someone.”

This campaign is meant to shed light on the violence that happens against women every day, but it is also for the survivors themselves. Elisabeth,* a UVU employee who created a t-shirt expressed how difficult it was to come to the event at all, but also how rewarding it can be.

“I think that hearing from people who are angry and people who are better, who have forgiven, and from people who are still trying to process… is all really important,” Elisabeth said. “That, for me, is rewarding because even though I think I have myself together it is still nice to hear, no matter how many times you’ve heard it, that you are not alone.”

*These names have been changed to protect those who shared their stories.

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