Along the walls hang everyday clothes, including T-shirts, jeans, shorts, and even a child’s dress, its flowery pattern standing out against the white interior of the gallery. While the articles of clothing look innocent, there is a painful story behind each outfit: the story of someone who was sexually assaulted.
The MSC Visual Arts Committee (VAC) hosted an opening reception on Thursday in the Reynolds Gallery for their latest exhibit “What Were You Wearing.” The exhibit’s goal is to raise awareness of sexual assault and reduce the stigma that what people wear changes their likelihood of being assaulted.
Students who visit the gallery, like animal science sophomore Edgar Montoya who attended the reception, can see examples of clothing that students wore when they were sexually assaulted, ranging from work uniforms, to sweatpants and sweatshirts, to a prom dress and a sari.
“Honestly, it hit hard because I’d never actually thought about it until I saw the outfits,” Montoya said. “I think the topic of sexual assault is getting better because people are seeing it as more of an issue. Exhibits like this bring more of a visual aspect to the issue because you can walk through yourself and see what’s actually happening instead of having people tell you and base your own ideas off of that.”
MSC VAC Chair Mckinsey Meeker helped write the proposal and worked behind the scenes to bring the exhibit to the Reynolds Gallery because sexual assault is a prevalent issue in society today, especially on college campuses.
“As a committee, we believe that one of art’s many purposes is to create awareness,” Meeker said. “I would like students and members of the Bryan-College Station community to leave the exhibit with increased awareness, being more aware of not only sexual assault, but also the fact that it can happen to anyone, wearing anything.”
VAC Adviser Mary Compton said the idea for this kind of exhibit started at Kansas University. Since first showcasing the exhibit, the university now assists other schools and programs like VAC to put on displays by providing a toolkit and database of survivors’ stories.
“Going through the submission process and hearing the stories was incredibly moving, and they continue to weigh heavily on me,” Meeker said. “But we want to use this exhibit to increase awareness of sexual assault and show our support for those survivors.”
Compton said she helped team members get materials and facilitated them as they decided upon which stories to display. In preparation for the display, VAC partnered with Texas A&M Health Promotions to train committee members on how to prepare and present the sensitive topic.
“We did do some discussion to prepare them for what they were going to read,” Compton said. “They knew this was going to be a difficult subject. We talked about how we were going to present that in the exhibit, but then actually reading the stories it was pretty challenging. But because we had done all that preparation, we knew what we were getting into.”
The exhibit presents a wide variety of stories, depicting how people of all genders, sizes and sexuality are affected by this issue. Case manager Ryan Jackson works with sexual assault victims through the Department of Civil Rights and Equity Investigations, getting survivors the resources they need and walking them through the reporting process.
“The unfortunate reality is that sexual assault impacts people of all genders, races, socio-economic statuses, sexual orientations, religions, lifestyles,” Jackson said. “When a sexual assault occurs it is not because of any decision the survivor made, it is because of a choice to harm someone made by the attacker. Awareness events like this are important because it is a reminder to all that this is an important issue for members of our community.”
While the exhibit is on display, VAC hopes that students will educate themselves on the topic and learn about advocacy groups such as Step In, Stand Up and the Green Dot, that support and provide resources for survivors.
“I believe the exhibit speaks for itself,” Meeker said. “It does not matter what someone was wearing or what situation that person was in. It is never the victims’ fault.”