by, Gabriella DePinho, Editor-in-Chief
The coronavirus pandemic shut down Manhattan College’s campus during the same week the college was hosting its Women’s Week events, including what would have been the third annual Clothesline Project. Upon returning to campus, members of the Lasallian Women and Gender Resource Center (LWGRC) knew the event would have to be hosted this fall and also reimagined to better reflect the current world environment.
The Clothesline Project, a global movement meant to bring attention to violence against men, women and children, was brought to Manhattan College’s campus in 2018 by Sophia Singh’18 who used the Multicultural Center to host the event.
“What inspired me to take on this project at Manhattan College was the fact that I have heard many stories of women and men being abused and even raped by their partners and not even realize it,” Singh was quoted as having said on a flyer that was displayed at this year’s event.
“The stories written on the shirts for display not only inspired students the year I did it, but it shed light on situations that people suppressed because they thought they were being ridiculous for thinking its abuse,” Singh added.
At the time of the first Clothesline Project at Manhattan College, professors and students were getting ready to propose the creation of the center.
“So before the Women and Gender Center opened, it started with the multicultural center and so our first year, we did it as a collaboration with the Multicultural Center and after that, they sort of said, ‘you know this is sort of more your jam, you should take this’ and so we did,” Jordan Pascoe, the LWGRC’s co-director and an associate professor of philosophy, said.
This year’s Clothesline Project display was initially canceled as campus began to shut down in March; however, when the center decided to bring it back this fall, they intentionally waited until October.
“So this year was different because we took a lot of the shirts that had been made last spring and we decided to move it to October because of National Domestic Violence Awareness Month,” Pascoe said. “We wanted to make sure that if people made shirts in the spring that those shirts got to be displayed one way or another so that’s why we moved it to the fall.”
The Clothesline Project, which began in Massachusetts in 1990, was brought to Manhattan’s campus by a student and has remained student-led since its inception on campus.
“I think our students are amazing, and really, really, really capable of shaping change and the world around them, and that a lot of the time, it is our job to kind of like, get out of students away and ask, like, what do you need to do what you want to do?” Pascoe said. “And to me, the clothesline project has been a particularly powerful example of that for the center because of the way that, you know, it’s really an all hands on deck event in the center, because we do these additional staff hours, and so everyone that can doubles their staffing hours during those weeks.”
In their staff hours, student interns, gender justice advocates, and the center’s graduate assistant provide support and company as students make their shirts.
“There are plenty of people who would prefer not to be alone when creating a shirt, so that was the idea of staffed hours virtually and in-person last week and we continued those into Monday,” Rabea Ali, the center’s graduate assistant said. “So you don’t have to sit in a room and create one alone, though people do pick up supplies and take them in their dorm and do it in their own time. There are people that I’ve sat with and talked through as they did them.”
Schulyer Alpaugh, a junior English and philosophy major and a gender justice advocate for the center, noted that while the center is there to support students who choose to participate, it is always a participant’s choice to be there.
“This is meant to be something that’s empowering and it’s meant to be something that makes people feel heard,” she said. “We never want people to feel like they have to [make a shirt] or like, this should never be a stressful experience for someone. It should be cathartic and it should be therapeutic. So if someone doesn’t feel comfortable or doesn’t feel like they should make a shirt, that’s their choice. We’re just here to support them if they feel ready.”
Additionally, Manhattan College student leadership has adapted the display to meet and respond to the needs of students at the college. One way they did this was by introducing an additional shirt color. The five original colors each had a specific meaning: white represents people that have died due to violence, yellow represents battered or assault victims, red represents survivors of rape and sexual assault, blue represents survivors of incest or child sexual assault and purple represents people attacked because of their gender identity or sexuality.
“There’s a lot of institutions that take part in it,” Ali said. “It is largely higher ed but there are others. We just sort of adapted it to Manhattan and responded as we see fit. An example of that is up until now, it was the five colors and now we’ve added teal and we’ll go from there.”
This year teal as a color option was introduced to represent survivors of digital harassment.
“That really came out of ongoing conversations about what form sexual violation is taking in the pandemic,” Pascoe said. “And so we sort of decided that creating space for people to, to name, express and articulate their own experiences in that domain was really important.”
This year the LWGRC also decided to hold the project up to a larger context.
“One of the things we added this year that I’m really proud of, and that I worked closely with students on was we really wanted to situate the clothesline project in the longer history of anti rape movements in the United States, and to really center the role of Black women and anti-rape movements to make visible the ways in which Black women’s anti-rape activism has been the seed of almost every major social movement in the United States,” Pascoe said. “And so we really wanted to make sure that that was part of the story that we were telling about, you know, what it means to do the work.”
The way in which they did this was by having informational flyers on top of the tables that the t-shirts were hanging from. The available historical context information ranged from the 19th century to the 21st, including information about the Me Too movement, founded by Tanara Burke.
One flyer included extensive quotes from Burke, who was cited as saying, “I think that the media doesn’t focus on the trauma that people of color experience. The work that we do in the movement centers on the most marginalized people. And so if you only define the Me Too movement by what you read in the media then no, there is not enough representation or even conversation about how sexual violence affects people of color, queer people, disabled people, anybody who is marginalized.”
Another flyer read, “Rosa Parks was a militant race woman, a sharp detective, and an anti-rape activist long before she became the patron saint of the bus boycott.” And yet another read, “The history of the rape crisis movement in the United States is also a history of the struggle of Agrican American women against racism and sexism.”
Though this historical context was new, it was one way in which students, under the guidance of Pascoe, continued to adapt the event to meet the college’s needs in a changing society. The tables were also covered in relevant statistics about violence and abuse.
The tables were covered in facts such as “1 out of 6 American women has been the victim of an attempted or completed rape in her lifetime,” “Women are battered every 10 to 12 seconds in the United States by their significant others or husbands,” and “About 3 percent of American men – or 1 in 33 – have experienced an attempted or completed rape in their lifetime.”
The display being centrally located on the campus on the quadrangle drew a number of passersby to look at it. Additionally, this display being the largest one yet hit home for the students who worked on it.
“I think the thing that’s really jarring is that we’ve had more submissions this year then ever,” Ali said. “And I think that’s just massively heartbreaking that these levels of abuse are going on, but the flip to that is that people trust us, people trust the center to tell their stories and do it in the right way and I think that says a lot too.”
Alpaugh added, “It’s just a very somber display to see, to see over 60 shirts on the quad from people’s real experiences.”
Andrea Gorrin Sepulveda, a senior English major, started her internship with the center just two weeks prior to the Clothesline Project’s display. Despite never having been involved before, Gorrin Sepulveda is glad to be a part of it.
“It makes you feel powerful, like you’re helping people, especially throughout these very tough times,” she said. “The fact that you’re giving a voice and a space for people to express themselves, maybe things they’ve already expressed or maybe things that they haven’t, I think it’s really beautiful.”
LWGRC intern and senior psychology major Julia Ettere echoed Gorrin Sepulveda’s sentiments.
“Especially on college campuses, that’s not really a place where survivors get a voice, so it’s rewarding to know that we’re doing something to support survivors of sexual assault,” Ettere said. “We might not be able to prevent it, but we can at least support them in the aftermath.”
For those involved with the center’s work, hosting this event at the start of the year was a way of honoring last year’s efforts and moving forward at the same time.
“We know that there were lots of students who put their heart and soul into things last year and didn’t get to see them to fruition,” Pascoe said. “And so, the Clothesline Project is part of our ongoing commitment to make sure that you know, that we are taking that work, and we’re holding on to it and we’re bringing it back out. So that’s part of where we’re starting this year is really just trying to honor the work that students did last year and make sure that we’re treating that as like a starting point this year.”
The center intends to host the Clothesline Project again this academic year in conjunction with Take Back the Night and Women’s Week in the spring semester.