Airing the Laundry: The Clothesline Project

Published: April 12, 2010 | Read Time: 3 minutes

As the afternoon warms, women hang laundry and share the latest neighborhood news – a common scene for the 1950’s, but in this day of text messaging and instant communication, the clothesline is simply a symbolic reminder of a communal support system that remains a vital component in our social fabric.

A support system that relies upon the honesty and insight that comes with the airing of “dirty laundry” as a voice for change.

To break the silence of sexual violence towards women and children in the southern Utah region, Southern Utah University’s Center for Women and Families will host its inaugural “Clothesline Project” beginning Monday, April 12 and running through Friday, April 16.

In its efforts, the Center for Women and Families will join an international movement of more than 300 clotheslines that hold messages of support on anonymously-designed t-shirts that serve as a memorial to those victims of sexual assault around the nation and more importantly, right here in our own community.

“This is an event to bring the community together and make them aware of the things that are going on around them,” said Caitlyn Kennedy, director of SUU’s Center for Women and Families.

Over the past month the Center for Women and Families has been collecting t-shirts from survivors and second-hand survivors of sexual violence that display images and written messages of solidarity and encouragement, providing a voice for those who cannot speak for themselves.

While anonymous, each shirt represents a person and a very personal, very real heart-wrenching story. “The display can be overwhelming but at the same time, powerful in the way that victims realize that they aren’t alone,” said Kennedy.

The clothesline is hung across the Business Quad and is open for all members of campus and the community to see and participate. The Center for Women and Families still has blank tees and supplies on hand. Those interested in decorating a shirt for the display may pick one up from the Center in the Sharwan Smith Student Center and either drop it back off or hang it themselves once the clotheslines are up.

Participants may design a shirt as a survivor of sexual violence themselves or as proxy to honor someone close to them. Since the display is intended as a safe zone for the sharing of very personal stories, participants are asked to refrain from using names of both victims and perpetrators in their designs.

In addition to bringing awareness to the prevalence of sexual violence, The Clothesline Project was created to provide a venue of support for victims of sexual violence. Information about support services as well as advice for those managing such struggles will be on hand at this week’s display.

The Clothesline Project was started in 1990 by members of the Cape Cod Women’s Agenda, after they saw the traveling Vietnam wall. The Women’s Agenda wanted to create a memorial to bring about an awareness of the women who had been killed and the enormous amount of violence against them.

According to The Clothesline Project website, the display gives women and children an opportunity to break the silence about violence by creating shirts that give voice to their personal experience, thereby creating a visual impact similar to the Vietnam Wall, and the AIDS quilt.

For more information on the Clothesline Project, contact Caitlyn Kennedy in the Center for Women and Families at 435-865-8752 or visit The Clothesline Project website.

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