Twenty years of T-shirts. Twenty years of truth.
This was how we, the co-directors of Bruin Consent Coalition, formerly 7000 in Solidarity: A Campaign Against Sexual Assault, started a blog post we released at the beginning of last week – a concise commemoration of the 20th anniversary of the Clothesline Display at UCLA. This is an annual three-day event during which victims or survivors of sexual and gender-based violence write or artistically represent their experiences on different colored shirts. As graduating seniors and people who have dedicated our UCLA undergraduate careers to this cause, we were imploring people to acknowledge, appreciate and truly absorb the simultaneous beauty and sadness in the truths of the shirts.
During cleanup Tuesday, our first day of the display, we noticed a shirt had been stolen. Our visceral reactions were shock, disbelief, dismay – feelings that are still very real almost a week later.
The display is an empowering space that survivors and our entire UCLA community relies on every year. It covers both Dickson Court North and South, and even requires us to hang shirts back-to-back on the clotheslines so we can ensure that every single shirt is displayed.
That shirt, just like every shirt, represents a survivor’s story. It is a manifestation of their truth – the horrific experience they were forced to endure. Too often, these shirts are the only form of expression that survivors feel safe utilizing. Overwhelmingly, our society, both as a whole and as individual communities, organizations or groups – including friends and families – can be silencing and shaming toward people who have experienced sexual violence. The display is an open validation of all survivors. It does not judge, it does not discriminate and it does not dictate the stories written on the shirts.
Those who stole that shirt directly silenced a survivor. They believed it was their right to invalidate and discredit a survivor’s truth. In this way, they also directly retraumatized that survivor.
Those who stole that shirt did so knowing they would get away with this violating act – much like how perpetrators of sexual violence often do not face repercussions for the crimes they commit.
Those who stole that shirt defiled the Clothesline Display, a place of safety, security, validation and support. We never thought we had to monitor the shirts; the thought of blatant theft never entered our minds. Sadly, we were wrong.
Bruin Consent Coalition’s main priority is supporting survivors of sexual violence. We will continue to do everything in our power to uphold this mission in all of our programs and events. The Clothesline Display will continue every year on this campus, and it will continue to grow – 35 new shirts were made this year alone. Next year, in addition to continuing as a space of healing and support, the shirts will symbolize defiance and strength. The shirts themselves are a community, all understanding the unfortunate reality of sexual violence. The shirts will hang every year in solidarity with one another and all survivors who add their experiences to this community of validation.
Broken, but not defeated. Surviving as every year goes by.
Patel is a fifth-year classical civilizations student. Keenan is a fourth year human biology and society student. Both are co-directors of the Bruin Consent Coalition.