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SAST Promoting Sexual Awareness

Clothesline Project Colors Tappan Square

by Elizabeth Heron

It is an arresting image: hundreds of shirts quietly fluttering on clotheslines stretched across Tappan Square. A closer look reveals the stories printed on the fabric, stories of survival of sexual and gender violence.

What has taken over Tappan Square yesterday and today is the Clothesline Project, a program undertaken annually by the Sexual Assault Support Team (SAST).

"It's the literal airing of society's dirty laundry," said first-year SAST member Brianna Cayo-Cotter. "Survivors, and allies and friends of survivors of sexual assault, sexual violence, incest, domestic violence, relationship abuse and hate crimes make T-shirts telling their stories. It's an incredibly powerful way of healing."

"Gender-based violence is something that people like to keep secret, keep in this closet of shame," saidCayo-Cotter. "A lot of times when a person writes their experience on a T-shirt it's the first time they have ever named what has happened. So it can be really powerful, not only for the survivor but as an educational and awareness building tool. When people come and they see 500 T-shirts up, they can't ignore the severity and pervasiveness of gender-based violence."

The Clothesline Project is an international program that began 10 years ago in Massachusetts with eight women and 32 T-shirts. It now spans eight countries and there are allegedly over a million T-shirts that have been made. The 200-plus T-shirts on Tappan Square tell the stories of people associated with the College and the Lorain County Rape Crisis Center.

The project is one of many events that SAST has coordinated to commemorate Sexual Assault Awareness Month. The group also focused on the previously unmentioned problem of hate crimes. A documentary and film entitled Boys Don't Cry that chronicled the life and death of Brandon Teena were shown earlier this week. Teena was a transgendered male who was raped and murdered by his friends when they discovered he was a biological female. The unusually affecting movie drew a large crowd, many of whom were crying by the credits. SAST counselors anticipated the emotional intensity of the subject, and were on hand to speak with audience members.

In addition, a Take Back The Night rally and bonfire was held Thursday night addressing hate crimes specifically. "Traditionally, Take Back the Nights have only focused on sexual violence, and we want to make ours inclusive of hate crimes as well. Basically a taking back the night of any person who feels unsafe," said Cayo-Cotter.

"Also, sexual violence can be looked at as a hate crime," said SAST treasurer and junior Rachel Barrett.

The event began on the steps of Wilder Student Union and continued to the fire pit in Tappan Square. Speakers and performances were included and SAST counselors were on hand to speak with students about strong feelings that arose.

April has been a busy month for SAST. They have sponsored a variety of programs and lectures, and have been steadily working on their 24-hour sexual assault hotline. They also produced Slut, a play about sexual and relationship violence which has been described as a darker "Sex at 7:30."

"'Sex at 7:30' tends to be kind of ridiculous, and doesn't seriously deal with a lot of issues that are really important," said Cayo-Cotter, who was the assistant director of Slut. "Slut was only dealing with violence and better ways to communicate in relationships. It really brought the community together and really got the campus talking about issues on campus."

"I believe that the way we're going to prevent gender-based violence is through education and awareness, and that's what this month is for," said Cayo-Cotter.

SAST has also challenged the administration's stance on sexual violence as being sedentary. "The only education about these issues that's done on campus is done by students," said Cayo-Cotter. "The administration has a responsibility to start a dialogue about sexual violence and how to prevent it, and they don't. I feel like it's irresponsible on the part of the administration, and that's one of the things we're trying to change."

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Copyright © 2000, The Oberlin Review.
Volume 128, Number 22, April 28, 2000

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