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IUN Speaks out Against Gender Violence

By Patrick Drennan
On October 2, 2013

Since last week, Monday, Sept. 23rd, students, faculty and staff have been creating t-shirts bearing declarations and politically charged phrases like "Don't hate me because you can't penetrate me," "No means no, I don't owe you anything," "Keep your misogyny out of my society," and "I'm strong, I'm brave, I've overcome, I will be loud. You can't take that from me." These eye catching shirts and their statements are all a part of the Clothesline Project, a nationwide effort to "educate, break the silence, and bear witness to violence against women," spearheaded by the Director of Women's and Gender Studies (WGS) Program, Dr. Tanice Foltz.

Each message is an original work by those who have been branding their outrage on these shirts, all color coded to represent a specific type of abuse. White shirts are for victims killed from violence; yellow for victims of domestic battery and assault; red, pink and orange represent rape victims; blue and green for victims of incest or child abuse; purple for those victimized for their sexual orientation; and black for anyone attacked for their political beliefs.

The national project began in 1990 when women from Cape Cod, Massachusetts wanted to express their anger about gender based violence. The idea behind using t-shirts as a vehicle for their protest came from the notion that since doing laundry was considered "women's work," these women would capitalize on the phrase "to air one's dirty laundry," an idiom that describes the taboo of discussing domestic issues in public, and do exactly that: spread awareness against all forms of abuse using clothes as their placards. 

The process of creating t-shirts ends on Oct. 4 and the shirts will be on display in the Clothesline Exhibit in the Moraine Center from Oct. 14-25. Though the project is primarily aimed to raise awareness against violence towards women and girls, both female and male students, faculty and staff are welcomed to create shirts in solidarity with victims and advocates.

Dr. Foltz and the WGS Program decided to bring the Clothesline Project and the climate of gender violence awareness back to campus after realizing how close to campus the incidence of gender violence really was. During last year's WGS student research conference, about two thirds of the students' papers dealt with issues of gender violence, revealing the interest in the topic the subject students had. More disturbingly, she discovered its prevalence among her own students in her Women and Crime courses after reviewing the results of the various informal, voluntary and anonymous surveys she's made to find out how many of her students have experienced abuse. Time after time, the surveys revealed that it was a "shockingly high" amount. "I've been here for 24 years and heard some amazing stories. Some really heart wrenching stuff," adding that "some students are going back home to it every day," intensifying the demand for an atmosphere on campus that shed the light on the realities of gender violence and combat it through education and organized events.

Fighting violence against women doesn't stop on campus with the Clothesline Project. Another priority of Dr. Foltz and the Women and Gender Studies Program is to make the Hass Birky Women's Center a safe zone-a place absolutely free from any kind of hostility or bullying that anyone of all gender and sexual identities can come to for support, as well as a place of information about abuse by hosting lectures, documentaries and discussion groups.

Dr. Foltz is currently working on a Victimization Study along with Dr. Monica Solinas-Saunders and two of her students in order to learn about the frequency of abuse and trauma that IUN students have experienced or witnessed and to provide them an opportunity to give IUN feedback as to what kinds of services might be helpful to help them focus, and deal more effectively with their lives, and ultimately, succeed academically.  The survey is in the early phases and they are seeking funding and assistance for this important census of the students at IUN.

A much anticipated IUN Women's and Gender Studies student conference is being prepared for next Spring on March 13 called Celebrating Our Students, focusing on the theme of "Gender Violence: From Trauma to Triumph." It will feature students presenting their original academic work on gender violence as well as a panel of experts on rape, battering and sexual abuse, including nurses, prosecutors, social workers and counselors. It will also feature a self-defense workshop and a drumming circle to empower participants and inspire them to become involved and to educate others about these issues.

Dr. Foltz describes the importance of these efforts by expressing the desired result: a way to ultimately help students deal with their lives more effectively and to be successful academically rather than just be traumatized. And ultimately, it's about educating and empowering students to value themselves as worthwhile human beings who deserve to be treated well, so they can move forward and become the leaders of the movement against gender violence.

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