Clothesline project on campus seeks to break silence, spur dialogue on sexual violence

Michael Drummond/Senior Staff

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T-shirts decorated with stories and messages against domestic, dating and sexual violence will hang on clotheslines on campus this week as part of an effort to spur dialogue on the issue early in the academic year.

The Cal Clothesline Project is located next to Kroeber Fountain and features dozens of shirts. Meghan Warner, a UC Berkeley junior and sexual assault survivor, came up with the idea to put on the event at this time of year. Similar clothesline projects happen nationwide, she said, but they often take place in April, during Sexual Assault Awareness Month.

“The first two weeks of school are when sexual assaults occur at the highest rate,” Warner said. “I wanted to address this right in the beginning of the year instead of waiting until April … I don’t want to say it’s too late, because it’s never too late to heal — but for a lot of people, they could have used the support a lot earlier.”

To put on the event, Warner received help from the campus Gender Equity Resource Center, which has housed Clothesline Project shirts for several years and hung up shirts last spring. She was also assisted by the offices of ASUC External Affairs Vice President Caitlin Quinn and ASUC Senator Haley Broder.

The event requires several volunteers per day, creating a diverse group that has so far included students from ASUC offices and the Greek community, according to Quinn.

UC Berkeley sophomore Sean Liu, for example, decided to volunteer after hearing about it through the project’s outreach to fraternities. He acknowledged that many instances of sexual assault happen at Greek events and said he wants to show that fraternities do not condone sexual violence.

“We’re all trying to improve with our involvement in these issues, but it still happens,” Liu said. “We’re trying to up our game.”

The shirts displayed Monday showed a range of poems, pictures and stories from survivors.

“Was my best friend,” wrote the author of one poem. “Was barely 16 when three men raped her as she lay unconscious … wasn’t ever the same.”

Broder called the project “an act of resistance,” which, through provoking dialogue, allows survivors to feel that they are not alone.

“Images are just a really powerful way to express this,” Broder said. “It’s a healing tool.”

The project contributes to the overarching goal of creating a culture of consent on campus, Broder said. The campus is currently searching for a survivor advocate to manage its response to sexual violence and has sought student input through a three-day forum, for which the last session will take place Wednesday.

The shirts will be on display from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. until Friday, culminating in a march from Kroeber Fountain to the Gender Equity Resource Center in honor of survivors. Afterward, participants will discuss issues of sexual, dating and domestic violence.

Contact Melissa Wen at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter @melissalwen.