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Clothesline Project Fosters Empowerment

The Clothesline Project returned to Swarthmore this week, casting light - and bursts of color - on a topic often kept in the dark.

The annual project encourages survivors of sexual assault and their allies to design T-shirts for display on a clothesline in front of Parrish Hall. Tattered, awash in colored glue and marker, and covered in handprints and hearts, the shirts carried messages ranging from raw anger to empowerment.

"It's a sobering experience to walk by and read these shirts," say Abuse & Sexual Assault Prevention (ASAP) coordinators Rebecca Ahmad '14, Alexander Noyes '15, and Nora Kerrich '16. "The week is one of many emotions, but among them is happiness surrounding the amount of the support that the community has to offer toward subjects that are normally seen as taboo to discuss."

"The hanging of these shirts and the messages they carry offers a visual representation of how people in our community have been touched by these issues," adds Nina Harris, violence prevention educator and advocate. "To be able to look out on Parrish and actually see the symbolic representation of victimization and survivorhood speaks to both the prevalence of gender-based violence and our collective resiliency to overcome it.

"Our hope," Harris continues, "is to give voice to those who suffered in silence, to raise awareness to the willfully blind, and to celebrate our perseverance."

This year's Clothesline Project coincides with April as Sexual Violence Awareness Month and runs through Friday. The ASAP coordinators deem it "a week for solidarity and recognition that people within our community have suffered or are suffering, often in silence" as well as a tribute to the strength of the persons sharing their stories on the shirts.

Beginning Monday, community members could stop by Parrish for a glimpse of the color-coded shirts: red for survivors of rape and sexual assault, white for persons who died from violent acts, yellow for persons who have been battered or assaulted, blue for survivors of incest and sexual abuse, and purple for persons attacked due to their sexual orientation.

The project kicked off with three shirt-making sessions on campus last week. It also featured a workshop, "Institutionalized Patriarchy: Framing Our Resistance," on Monday from Esteban Kelly of the Aorta Collective and keynote event, "Breaking The Silence: Resisting Street Harassment" on Wednesday from Rochelle Keyhan of HollabackPhilly.

Stemming from a national organization created by a group of women from Cape Cod, Mass., in 1990, The Clothesline Project has grown to over 500 projects across the world. Students and Assistant Dean and Gender Education Advisor Karen Henry '87 brought the annual project to Swarthmore in 2006.

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