On a rainy Tuesday, close to 40 T-shirts hanging on a clothesline on the Great Lawn swayed in the wind, decorated with words of encouragement, empowerment and sadness; these shirts tell the stories of female survivors of abuse and friends of survivors. One of the shirts reads: “I’m sorry… That I didn’t know, that I couldn’t help you, that I found out too late… I’m sorry… That you had to endure all those months of violence and rape before you were able to break free… I’m sorry… That I can’t erase the memory for you… I’m sorry.”
This symbolic clothesline is on display from Tuesday, April 14 to Friday, April 17, as part of the Clothesline Project, a national group founded in 1990 focusing on violence against women.
The idea behind the use of a clothesline stems from the act of doing laundry, traditionally performed by women.
While doing laundry, many women would air their “dirty laundry,” sharing their experiences of abuse and receiving emotional support from other women.This year’s theme is “Turn Off the Violence.”
“Read the shirts that are there. Some relate personal stories, some shout resistance,” said Judith Ryder, assistant professor of Sociology in St. John’s College and a member of the Women’s and Gender Studies Committee, at a lecture held on April 14.
“[Women are] daring to display that which has been hidden from public sight… they can walk away leaving their stories on the line.”
Those interested in participating can pick up a bag containing a T-shirt and art supplies on a table set up on the Great Lawn, the Sociology Department, the Counseling Center, or Campus Ministry. After the shirt is decorated, it will be added to the clothesline.
“[The Clothesline Project] gives a positive expression to peoples’ experiences, said Barbara Koziak, director of the Women’s and Gender Studies Program. “It’s a form of collective action.” Ryder played an instrumental role in bringing the Clothesline Project to St. John’s-this is the second year the University has held the event.
She said she and other members of the Women’s and Gender Studies program discussed events they wanted to hold during the school year.
“We were talking about different things we wanted to do and different issues we felt were important,” she said.
“Gender violence was a big issue.”Ryder said she was already familiar with the Clothesline Project and thought it was a good idea to bring it to St. John’s. “I thought this would be something simple, but dramatic and visual,” she said. “We received a lot of support from various organizations and from students.”
In addition to the Women’s and Gender Studies Program, the four-day event is also co-sponsored by Student Wellness, Campus Life, Campus Ministry, and many other organizations on campus.
There are numerous events taking place on the Queens’ campus as part of the Clothesline Project.
On April 14, Lisa Kurbiel, who works in the United Nation’s Department of Peacekeeping Operations and as an adjunct professor in St. John’s School of Law, was the keynote speaker at a lecture held in Council Hall during Common Hour.
Kurbiel shared some of her experiences regarding violence against women while working in various countries in Africa. “There is a disconnect between what international law requires and what happens on the ground,” she said, telling the audience that some U.N. peacekeepers “further victimize and further ravage” the villages they are sent to help because they sexually abuse the women there.
“A lot of advocacy needs to happen… months, years, decades before the first moment of abuse occurs,” Kurbiel stated.
She explained that she believes there needs to be legislation and policies to protect women and girls from being sexually abused or trafficked for sex.
“In any country where violence against women occurs, the courage to come forward with that complaint requires tremendous strength,” she said.
“Policies should ensure that women can come forward.”
Kurbiel also showed clips from the 2007 documentary Very Young Girls. The film showcases GEMS (Girls’ Education and Mentoring Services), an organization with offices in New York City that works to help young girls who are involved with prostitution, and which Kurbiel works with. “I didn’t want to believe that this could be happening in New York,” she said about her experience when she first began working with GEMS.
Other events planned for this week are an interdisciplinary faculty panel and discussion on Wednesday, April 15 at Common Hour in Council Hall, a campus-community panel and discussion on Thursday, April 16 at Common Hour in Council Hall, a lecture by Mike Domitrz, author of Can I Kiss You? (a book about sexual assault awareness), and a closing ceremony Friday, April 17 at Common Hour on the Great Lawn, when the T-shirts will be taken down.