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The "What Were You Wearing?" art exhibit is pictured in the Trisolini Gallery in Baker Center on Thursday. The exhibit features stories of survivors of sexual assault.

'What Were You Wearing?' panel discusses welcome week house banners and fighting rape culture

A panel of 11 experts discussed and responded to questions Wednesday night regarding the “What Were You Wearing?” art exhibit, which opened Aug. 30 and displays clothing worn by 43 survivors of sexual assault and rape from Athens County and Ohio University. The exhibit is located in the Trisolini Gallery in Baker Center.

Jenny Hall-Jones began the event by reciting the poem that inspired the exhibit itself, letting the words sink in before delving into the panel discussion any further.

“When one person believes what someone is wearing is an excuse for sexual violence, we have a culture that legitimizes sexual violence and stigmatizes survivors, and that is unacceptable,” Hall-Jones, Ohio University dean of students, said.

Since the opening of the exhibit, five reports of sexual assault, including three on OU's campus, have been reported.

One of the more pressing topics of the discussion were the banners that hung from the off-campus houses during Ohio University’s welcome week.

Panelist Elizabeth Pepper, an Athens County assistant prosecutor, recognizes that the obscene banners are a real and palpable thing that happens in Athens.

“People find it funny if someone walks home drunk by themself, or if someone drinks so much the previous night that they don’t remember anything,” Pepper said. “The lack of bystander intervention is a part of rape culture, and people need to be more involved and not be so numb.”

OU Police Chief Andrew Powers shared that it is very difficult to balance the law with the first amendment in regards to taking down the banners.

“I think we can all agree the banners are objectionable and horrible and reflect the terrible side of our community,” Powers said. “But at the end of the day, the law has really no ability to regulate content until it reaches a clear and direct threat.”

Aaron Eckhardt, interim director of the Buckeye Region Anti-Violence Organization, believes the acceptance and support of rape culture began with “the fundamental and total failure of our educational systems.”

“At the primary and secondary school systems we don’t teach prevention,” Eckhardt, who uses they/them pronouns, said. “The prevention that is taught is very minimal in the way that it’s like 'don’t get raped' instead of 'don’t rape people.'”

Eckhardt believes we need to start talking about body awareness in preschool and kindergarten. From then on, schools and colleges could possibly have mandatory meetings, training or events where students and residents can properly respond to someone who has been sexually assaulted.

“We need to have more conversations like this in our friend groups, because we heal in community. We don’t heal in isolation,” Eckhardt said.

Kara Owens, a senior studying painting and drawing, came to the panel after hearing about and visiting the “What Were You Wearing?” exhibit to see what the panelists had to say about it.

“I found it very informative. I had no idea the LGBTQ community didn’t have civil rights in Ohio,” Owens said. “It was a very good discussion and I wish more people had come.”

Almost all of the panelists, specifically Kim Castor, spoke on how the students and residents of Athens can fight rape culture by intervening when friends partake in violence, and how there are ways that they can be there for victims of sexual assault.

“We’re doing our best to train people on how to properly respond to someone who has been sexually assaulted,” Castor, the director of the OU Survivor Advocacy Program, said. “If nothing else, just start by believing and avoiding the phrase ‘I know how you feel,’ because you don’t.”


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