Women’s Week recently wrapped up on UT’s campus, and as such, students united against women’s issues like domestic violence, rape and sexual abuse in an unusual way — through the decorating of T-shirts.
The Clothesline Project, which is hosted annually by UTK’s Women’s Coordinating Council (WCC), allows women to connect and share their personal experiences with these awful issues in a creative, therapeutic way.
“It’s basically a way for women to express themselves and whatever has been on their heart,” Christina Hunt, a sophomore in finance and press secretary for the WCC, said.
Each shirt color represented a different issue pertaining to women, whether it be incest, rape, abuse or discrimination grounded in gender or sexuality.
Leigh Schlactus, senior in English and chair of the WCC, described the project as “a chance for anyone, whether a survivor, a friend or relative of a survivor, or someone who wants to speak out against assault and domestic violence, to express their feelings.”
The finished shirts were hung from clothes lines in the UC ballroom on Friday during the Take Back the Night march, Women’s Week’s culminating event. Schlactus hoped that the shirts were able to send an empowering message.
“The idea is not to judge anyone’s expression but to recognize their chance to be heard,” Schlactus said.
This chance to be heard is one that unfortunately is not always met in society.
“A lot of times these issues aren’t really spoken of,” Hunt said. “It’s kind of swept under the rug.”
Brandi Panter, a senior in history and the executive press secretary of the Central Programing Council, agreed.
“The Clothesline Project and Women’s Week are very important because I think there is a large cultural taboo when it comes to speaking out about rape aggression,” Panter said. “No woman should be ashamed or apologize for what happened to them because it isn’t their fault.”
While this message is universal to all women, Hunt said, it is especially pertinent to those in college.
“The reason why this message is so important to the college campus is that a lot of the time, women are especially vulnerable to these issues at this time in their lives,” Hunt said. “College is an environment where you are exposed to a lot of new things. You’re not with your parents anymore, and with all of that independence comes a lot of bad things that can happen to you. You could be more easily taken advantage of.”
The statistics support Hunt’s rationale. According to a 2007 study taken by the National Center for Victims of Crime, an estimated one out of four college women is either raped or attempted to be raped every year. The study reveals that in 85 percent of these assaults, the women knew their attacker, and that a mere 16 percent of rape victims report the crime to the police.
It was these appalling numbers that were addressed and protested during Friday’s march, which concluded with a candlelit vigil, a “speak out” and speech by keynote speaker Angela Rose.
“The silent march is an opportunity to honor victims and survivors of sexual assault and domestic violence,” Schlactus said. “When I march every year, it never fails to amaze me the spirit of community you feel when walking together. This is our chance to show we’re not afraid to take a stand.”
Panter praised the event for its inspirational qualities.
“The march is so important because it’s a very uplifting and empowering thing to see so many people coming together and uniting for a cause that is 100 percent good, and that is the right to be safe and have governance over your own body,” Panter said.
Take Back the Night is one of several events that the WCC organizes throughout the year. Their Women’s Center, which is located on the third floor of the UC, also serves as a readily available resource to women on campus.
“Our mission is to empower women on campus and promote awareness of issues that women face daily,” Hunt said. “The Women’s Center is an outlet so that women feel they have a safe environment they can come to.”
Panter added that the Center has “information on things like sexual assault and STDs” and that they supply “condoms, feminine products and occasionally peppermints” to students.
“It’s a warm and welcoming environment, and with a 51-percent majority of female students on campus, it’s nice to see that we have a group who addresses their needs,” Panter said. “It’s a beautiful thing.”
 Through all the efforts that the WCC is taking, Schlactus hopes to see women’s empowerment continue to progress on university campuses.
“People need to understand that violence against women happens all too often and that victims need our support and encouragement, not our judgment,” Schlactus. “College-aged women are the next generation of wives and mothers; social change is always slow, whatever the issue may be. If we aren’t striving to change the attitudes of our generation, that change will take even longer to be realized.”