‘What Were You Wearing?’ exhibit shares stories from sexual assault survivors

A student reads one of the stories in the "What Were You Wearing?" exhibit presented by CARE on April 16, 2019. The outfits on display were recreated from stories of people who have survived sexual violence. The exhibit is running from April 9 to April 19. (Sarah Millard | Collegian Media Group)

Editor’s note: This article discusses sexual assault and related crimes. Its content may be disturbing to some readers. Discretion is advised.

Along the walls of the Mark A. Chapman Gallery in Willard Hall are carefully laid out outfits — uniforms, street clothes and, occasionally, a single piece of underwear.

All of these outfits were hung to tell devastating stories about the clothes worn by survivors of sexual assault in an art installation known as “What Were You Wearing?”

The outfits that compose “What Were You Wearing?” may come off as unassuming to some viewers due to the variety, ranging from children’s sizes to adult clothing.

Students look at pieces from the "What Were You Wearing?" exhibit presented by CARE on Tuesday, April 16. (Sarah Millard | Collegian Media Group)

“None of these outfits look like what should be expected,” said Stephanie Foran, an educator involved with the Center for Advocacy, Response and Education at Kansas State University, or CARE.

Each outfit in the gallery, which is on display until Friday afternoon, shares a story about a specific incident of assault, often going into details.

“The first time, I was wearing jeans and a blue T-shirt,” one description reads. “The next time, years later, I was wearing jeans and a blue T-shirt. Even today, I am wearing blue because they don’t get to take my voice, my favorite color or my ability to say ‘no’ and mean it. These are mine.”

Tears are not an uncommon site in the gallery due to the overwhelming stories. The exhibit also includes copies of “Purple Cried,” a book of K-State students’ accounts of violence, trauma and sexual assault.

"Purple Cried," a book made up of K-State students' accounts of violence, trauma and sexual assault, is one of many pieces on display at the "What Were You Wearing?" exhibit presented by CARE. (Sarah Millard | Collegian Media Group)

“I think it should be mandatory,” Erika League, senior in psychology, said regarding the exhibit. “I think everyone should know about this.”

Members of CARE said they feel this exhibit is important to them and others. The goal of the exhibit is to help viewers understand that they should not make assumptions about victims of sexual assault.

“There are very harmful and destructive statements which survivors of sexual assault might hear on a daily basis,” Clara Kientz, assistant director of CARE, said. “And instead of questioning their experience, the best thing that we can do is provide support and believe them and stand by them in solidarity.”

Students look at pieces from the "What Were You Wearing?" exhibit presented by CARE. (Sarah Millard | Collegian Media Group)

CARE offers resources to students who are survivors of sexual assault and related crimes.

According to their website, “CARE provides confidential, free and voluntary services and advocacy for survivors of sexual violence, dating violence, stalking and sexual harassment.”

CARE will also be hosting a Denim Day at the Student Union on April 24 from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. to protest destructive attitudes regarding sexual harassment, abuse, assault and rape.

Editor’s note: If you are struggling with a traumatic experience, there are resources available to help you. You can contact CARE at 785-532-6444 or ksucare@ksu.edu. Counseling Services can be reached at 785-532-6927 or counsel@ksu.edu. You can also call the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 1-800-656-4673.