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"What Were You Wearing?" Survivor Art Installation

"What were you wearing?" is an all too common and familiar question asked of victim survivors of sexual assault and violence by family, friends, community members, law enforcement, attorneys, and more. This question is rooted in victim-blaming culture and the rape myth that victim survivors provoke perpetrators due to their behavior, whether that be how they dress, if they drank or consumed drugs, or if they go back to the individual's apartment. The reality is nothing a victim survivor does invites sexual violence or assault.

Focusing on the actions of the victim survivor will never prevent or eliminate violence given no one ever asks to be assaulted. Rather, this focus obscures the true cause of sexual violence, the choice of a perpetrator to commit an act of violence in order to exert power and control over another person.

Thus, the What Were You Wearing? Survivor Art Installation seeks to dispel this myth by collecting stories from our Penn State community members of what they were wearing when they experienced sexual violence and assault. Through this project, we hope to dismantle rape culture and promote consent culture and support for victim survivors in our community.

"It was an ugly Christmas sweater party, so I had on a Christmas sweater I borrowed from a friend and a pair of skinny jeans. The worst part? My 'friends' dared him to do it." -Penn State Community Member
These stories were submitted by members of the Penn State Community, faculty, staff, and students. The gallery contains descriptions of power-based interpersonal violence, including sexual violence and assault. Please use self-care as needed.

Reach out to the Gender Equity Center for support at genderequity@psu.edu or 814-863-2027. For 24/7 support in Centre County, reach out to Centre Safe at 814-234-5050 or www.centresafe.org. For support throughout the US visit rainn.org.
History of the Installation

The Installation originated at the University of Arkansas. In 2013, Jen Brockman and Dr. Mary Wyandt-Hiebert created the project, inspired by Dr. Mary Simmerling's poem, What I Was Wearing. Wyandt-Hiebert and Brockman wanted to create a visual representation of the poem and throughout June 2013, they conceptualized and developed a framework for the installation. They then contacted Simmerling for permission to use the poem in the project.

In April 2014, the first What Were You Wearing? Survivor Art Installation was held in April 2014 for Sexual Assault Awareness and Prevention Month. Leading up to the exhibit, Brockman and Wyandt-Hiebert started collecting stories from student-survivors at the University of Arkansas in September 2013. Student-survivors voluntarily shared brief descriptions of what they were wearing when they experienced sexual violence during personal interviews with Brockman and Wyandt-Hiebert. The clothing for the Installation was donated by Peace At home Thrift Store in Fayetteville, Arkansas. 

The first What Were You Wearing? Survivor Art Installation was displayed at the University of Arkansas March 31-April 4, 2014

Modified from the Kansas University “What Where You Wearing?” curation guide.

History at Penn State

In recognition of April being Sexual Assault Awareness and Prevention Month (SAAPM), the Gender Equity Center annually participates and collaborates with campus partners, student groups, and the University Park Undergraduate Association (UPUA) in their Sexual Violence Awareness and Prevention (SVAP) Week to host a series of events, panels, speakers and activities that aim to educate and empower students to combat sexual violence on college campuses.

The Gender Equity Center hosted the first installment of the What Were You Wearing Exhibit at University Park in April 2018 as part of SVAP week and it spread to the other Penn State campuses hosting their own versions of the What Were You Wearing Installation. In Spring 2020, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the in-person What Were You Wearing exhibit was canceled due to the transition to distanced learning and engagement.

Given the impact of COVID-19 is still being felt, this spring, the Gender Equity Center is taking our installment virtual. Faculty, staff, students, and community members can review our digital archive of stories. Additionally, faculty, staff, and student victim-survivors can add to the exhibit by sharing a brief story about what they were wearing using our anonymous Microsoft form.

What Were You Wearing Story Submission
Do you have a story you want to share to add to our Installation of the What Were You Wearing Art exhibit? Fill out our anonymous Microsoft Form and share your story today.
Click here to anonymously share your story
What were you wearing? Story submissions