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Clothesline Project reflects on experiences with sexual violence

April 28, 2022

CUSTOM TEES Hand-drawn t-shirt designs were exhibited outside of Dudley Coe as part of the Clothesline Project to raise awareness and diminish the stigma surrounding sexual violence.

The Office of Gender Violence Prevention and Education (OGVPE) facilitated student participation in the Clothesline Project these past two weeks as part of its Sexual Assault Awareness Month programming. The Clothesline Project, founded in 1990, is a nationwide awareness-raising movement in which participants represent their experience with gender violence on a t-shirt. After two t-shirt making workshops last week, the shirts were displayed on Coe Quad from April 21 to 27.

The Project aims to act as an unavoidable reminder of campus experiences with sexual violence as “a visual display of violence statistics that often go ignored,” according to the organization’s website.

“By being visual and in the main thoroughfare, folks are confronted with the violence that exists in our communities,” Associate Director of the Sexuality, Women and Gender Center Rachel Reinke said. “The goal for Bowdoin’s Clothesline Project is to raise awareness and, in order to release the stigma of sexual violence, have folks talking about the fact that this happens in our community all the time.”

This is the first time the Clothesline Project has been held on campus since the start of the pandemic.

“It’s definitely been a building year in terms of getting folks to know about it,” Reinke said. “Because we haven’t been on campus, folks haven’t seen it. There’s been a lot more education involved with it this year.”

However, lack of knowledge about the Project has not prevented enthusiastic participation. Participants had been affected by sexual violence to varying degrees, but all wanted to illustrate their support for the cause.

“The folks encouraged to make t-shirts were anyone who has messages for survivors, anyone who identifies as a survivor or anyone who loves someone who identifies as a survivor,” Reinke said.

Reactions to these displays of support have been positive.

“People have felt really reassured,” Reinke said. “Folks who identify as survivors have come to me and been really grateful to know that people care and that people take this issue really seriously on campus. I also talked to the folks that were making the shirts at the workshops we held, and they were so happy to be able to have a place to support survivors, or to be able to express themselves.”

The Clothesline Project fits into the larger work that the OGVPE is trying to do on campus.

“I think it speaks to the larger issue of having more spaces available for survivors to be supported, and also for people to support survivors, because I think there’s a real desire to do that here on campus,” Reinke said. “One of the main goals of our office is to raise awareness as a primary form of prevention on campus because it’s a lot easier for sexual violence to persist when no one is talking about it. It fits into the awareness-raising component pretty clearly, and also in terms of survivors seeing themselves reflected on campus, and seeing support in a real, tangible way.”


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