USM exhibit asks 'What were you wearing?'

USM exhibit asks 'What were you wearing?'
source: wdam

HATTIESBURG, MS (WDAM) - The University of Southern Mississippi opened a new exhibit meant to give students a new understanding of sexual violence victims. The installation is called "What were you wearing?"

Survivor Art Installation is co-sponsored by the Southern Miss Committee on Services and Resources for Women and the Shafer Center for Crisis Intervention and is located in the Cook Library Art Gallery.

Associate Professor and Chair for the CSRW Melanie Leauty says the goal of this installation is to get people talking about sexual violence.

"When we ask questions like "What were you wearing?", we're continuing to still blame the victims," says Leauty. "When we don't ask questions or talk about issues of sexual assault in our everyday conversations, we're also undermining the opportunities to think about ways that we can prevent these things from happening in the future."

The installation features stories from sexual assault victims from various campuses. Clothing on the walls, developed by organizations on Southern Miss campuses, are re-creations of what the victim was wearing at the time of the incident.

Several outfits include T-shirts, jeans and sweatpants.

Jessica Fields, a junior at the university, says walking into the room is daunting.

"It's a wake up call to say you're not safe in just everyday clothing," said Fields. "I'm glad that they're telling their stories and they're not being silenced by it."

Leauty said the concept is based off a poem titled "What I was wearing." She says the first installation was displayed at the University of Arkansas, and she hopes to make the exhibit an annual event on USM's campus.

"I think that just recognizing when we don't talk about issues of sexual assault, we're giving more power to the perpatrater," said Leauty.

There's also a section on the wall filled with stories of sexual assault and rape written by students on USM campuses. Several of the stories date back to early childhood.

JR Moody, a junior at the university, said the installation has given him a new perspective of his fellow colleagues.

"Just seeing these stories of people that could be just walking through right now and have experienced these things, it's crazy because it makes you realize and reanalyze have I ever said anything," said Moody. "It could be so simple, but yet, you're just as guilty for those simple things that you say."

The installation will be open until May.