This April, SUNY Plattsburgh Title IX and RADIUS is taking the time to honor individuals who have experienced sexual assault. Since April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month, SUNY Plattsburgh is bringing awareness to campus. Throughout the month, the college will hold events and exhibits such as, “What Were You Wearing,” a nation-wide art installation that illustrates how individuals who experience sexual assault are often blamed for their wardrobe choices.
The instillation made its debut back in 2013, when the University of Arkansas opened an art exhibit that honored individuals who have experienced sexual assault and violence. The project, originally inspired by Dr. Mary Simmerling’s poem, “What I Was Wearing,” aims to shatter the myth that sexual assault can be attributed to the clothing choices that an individual made.
“This is actually the first year that we’re showing the exhibit,” Zyaijah Nadler, violence prevention education & outreach coordinator for Title IX at SUNY Plattsburgh, said. “Last year, I came across the project and I really loved the idea. Sometimes people mean well when they ask the question, ‘What were you wearing?’ But they also don’t realize how harmful that question can be so we need to talk about it so that people are more aware.”
According to Nadler, the university tries to find new conversations and trends that need to be talked about during April and October. SUNY Plattsburgh students can visit the exhibit from April 1 through April 17 in the Deep Quiet Room of Feinberg Library.
“Helping setup the art installation was a great experience for me,” MiraBella Santana, peer educator intern in the Title IX office, said. “To be able to see people’s stories, not only in our own community, but as well as other campuses is very important. The exhibit is more than just an event or a project. It sparks conversation and allows people to come together on campus.”
“The Clothesline Project,” is another event that students can participate in this April. Like the art exhibit, the project aims to raise awareness about sexual assault and spark discourse on campus. Individuals who have experienced sexual assault and family members share their stories through words and pictures painted onto color coded t-shirts. Students can pick up their own shirt to decorate at the Angell College Center. Student’s shirts will be strung up in the Angell College Center in front of the Campus Express store throughout April.
“COVID has definitely changed things this year,” Nadler said. “Some events we’ve had this year had smaller turn outs compared to past years, but we still want to hold these events for the students. Even though things are harder with COVID, it’s still incredibly important to have the events open so that students talk about sexual assault more.”
SUNY Plattsburgh students can be a part of the change in many different ways. Students can apply for an internship at the Title IX office, students can intervene in a situation where someone may be in trouble and students can attend events, so the conversation can continue to grow.
Students can also get involved with the Student Conduct Board, which allows them to get more involved within the campus community. There is also the Student Association that students can join to help make the SUNY Plattsburgh campus as inclusive and safe as possible. .
“These events help to paint a picture for people who don’t recognize that sexual assault and violence is happening around them, more often than not,” Santana said. “We want students to know that they can come to us for anything. If they need resources, information or just support, we’re always here for them.”
The college is offering other events for students to participate in during April. Some of these events include a roundtable on violence prevention, a virtual symposium, “Writing Grief, Writing Growth: Authors Speak on Creativity During Difficult Times,” featuring authors discussing their work and a panel discussion on writing about grief and loss, as well as others.
“Change happens in numbers, we can’t do this alone,” Nadler said. “There are 4,000 students and 1,000 employees on campus. We need to create a domino effect. We need people talking about this type of violence. I can’t tell you how many people are just now finding out about these events and resources available to them. To me, that’s powerful. Sometimes things can be right in your face and you don’t even notice. If these things aren’t brought to your attention by your peers, then you won’t know about it.”