if only it were so simple/if only we could/end rape/by simply changing clothes. — From “What Was I Wearing?” by Mary Simmerling

The question, “What Were You Wearing?” is often asked of survivors of sexual violence in order to discredit them. According to M. Geneva Murray, director of Ohio University’s Women’s Center, this question will be answered by the powerful exhibit to be displayed at the Ohio University Eastern Campus.

Ohio University Eastern will host the survivor art installation, “What Were You Wearing?” March 18-29 in the Shannon Hall Art Gallery.

“We collected stories from people throughout our campus and the southeastern Ohio community who have survived sexual violence,” said Murray. “We ended up with 42 submissions of clothing and descriptions of what each person was wearing when they were sexually assaulted to debunk the absurd myth that it actually matters.”

“This exhibit is made possible by so many campus and community groups coming together and recognizing that sexual violence is real, and ending that violence and supporting survivors are everyone’s responsibility,” Ohio University Eastern Dean Bob Klein said. “That the survivors of sexual violence were willing to contribute their stories in this way is an act of incredible bravery, and visitors to the exhibit will feel the power of those stories and those survivors.”

OUE campus organizations sponsoring the exhibit include: the Athletic Department, Cultural Life & Diversity Committee, Dean’s Office, Development Advisory Board, Education Club, Student Services Department and Wallflower Alliance. Local community sponsors include the Junior League of Wheeling, St. Clairsville Area Chamber of Commerce, Sexual Assault Center, Tri-County Help Center and the YWCA Wheeling.

Sponsors from the Athens campus include: Ohio University’s Women’s Center, OHIO Alumni Association, Survivor Advocacy Program, Survivor Advocacy Outreach Program, Campus Involvement Center, College of Fine Arts, Ambassadors to the Survivor Advocacy program, lntersectional Feminist Alliance, Student Senate and the Trisolini Gallery.

YWCA Wheeling Board President Denise Penz was thrilled to be involved with the exhibit. “Our partnership with Ohio University Eastern to bring this powerful program and display to our area is a perfect fit for our mission of empowerment,” she said. “We believe that by hearing the stories of others and seeing the reality of what you were wearing will come a stronger understanding of the strength it takes overcome adversity and triumph that is achieved when you are successful.”

The first “What Were You Wearing?” exhibit was held in 2014 at the University of Arkansas. The event was inspired by Dr. Mary Simmerling’s poem, “What Was I Wearing?” Similar exhibits have been housed all over the United States and in other countries.

The charge to organize an Ohio University Survivor Art Installation was led by Murray; Kim Castor, director of the Survivor Advocacy Program; and Mat Hall, assistant director of Health Promotion for Sexual Assault/Misconduct Prevention.

“The Women’s Center, Survivor Advocacy Program and the Campus Involvement Center are committed to providing arts-based survivor centered programming every fall on the Athens Campus during the ‘red zone.’  The red zone is the time that we see, on college campuses nationwide, an increase in sexual violence. It occurs during the first few weeks of the semester, and can also occur at other points throughout the year,” Murray said. “Providing programming that rejects rape myths, increases empathy, and prioritizes survivor stories is essential in communicating that survivors experiences matter and that violence has no place in our community.”

The National Coalition against Domestic Violence (NCADV) reports that one out of every five women and one out of every 71 men will be raped in their lifetime in the U.S. They also indicate that one out of every three women have been the victims of physical violence by intimate partners in their lifetimes.

YWCA Wheeling Marketing Director Anne Ricci hopes the exhibit will get a great local turnout.

“Art is a great way to translate the message of sexual assault’s impact. It creates a response, an emotion. We all have a responsibility to set an example. By attending, you’re showing support of the many victims of rape and/or physical assaults and will uncover biases and misbeliefs that many have.”

The exhibit will be open for public viewing from 10 a.m. to noon and 4-6 p.m. Monday through Thursday and from noon to 2 p.m. on Fridays. The exception is Thursday, March 21, when exhibit will be open from 7-8:30 p.m.

For more information or to schedule a private showing, contact E.J. Schodzinski, director of external relations, by email at schodzin@ohio.edu.

Ohio University Eastern is located off of I-70, exit 213, just west of the Ohio Valley Mall in St. Clairsville.

“WHAT WAS I WEARING?”

By Mary Simmerling

was this:
from the top
a white t-shirt
cotton
short-sleeved
and round at the neck

this was tucked into
a jean skirt
(also cotton)
ending just above the knees
and belted at the top

underneath all this
was a white cotton bra
and white underpants
(though probably not a set)

on my feet
white tennis shoes
the kind one plays tennis in
and then finally
silver earrings, and lip gloss.

this is what i was wearing
that day
that night
that fourth of july
in 1987.

you may be wondering
why this matters
or even how i remember
every item
in such detail

you see
i have been asked this question
many times
it has been called to my mind
many times
this question
this answer
these details.

but my answer
much awaited
much anticipated
seems flat somehow
given the rest of the details
of that night
during which
at some point
i was raped.

and i wonder
what answer
what details
would give comfort
could give comfort
to you
my questioners

seeking comfort where
there is
alas
no comfort
to be found.

if only it were so simple
if only we could
end rape
by simply changing clothes.

i remember also
what he was wearing
that night
even though
it’s true
that no one
has ever asked.

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