Symbolic T-shirts kick off Women’s Advocacy Week

Janette Neuwahl

Despite Monday’s cloudy weather, a rainbow arched over The Rock – a rainbow of T-shirts symbolizing the struggles of women dealing with sexual assault.

The red, white, yellow, green and blue shirts, complete with messages from sexual assault victims about their experiences, hung on a clothesline as part of a demonstration kicking off Northwestern Community Development Corps’ Women’s Advocacy Week.

The clothesline exhibit was just one of a series of events that group members hope will increase awareness of issues relating to women, relationships and sexual abuse.

“A lot of people think women have achieved complete equality and things have moved way beyond the ’50s,” said Melissa Harris, the group’s campus outreach co-chairwoman. “But we want people to be aware that these problems still exist and women are still beaten, abused and manipulated. These things still happen and we can’t stop fighting them.”

Though NCDC didn’t plan to have its week follow Women’s Coalition’s Take Back the Night, Harris said the coincidence helps the group continue in its effort to inform NU students about women’s issues.

“Take Back The Night is a lot about empowerment and activism and this is just a way to continue that,” said Harris, a Medill senior. “We could use that to our advantage because after Take Back the Night women’s issues are at the forefront of people’s minds.”

As part of the week, Women’s Co. will collaborate with NCDC on Thursday to host “Take Your Daughter to Work” Day where young girls will see some of the career opportunities for women at Northwestern. Other events throughout the week include the “Wall of Hope,” a three-year NCDC tradition where students can post messages in Norris University Center about women’s issues.

Focusing on community development within the campus, NCDC’s push to raise awareness of women’s issues will be highlighted by speaker Barbara Huberman, director of Advocacy for Youth. Huberman, who will speak at 7 p.m. today, is nationally renowned in sexual health and adolescent empowerment.

Harris said Huberman’s emphasis on the importance of respecting individuality while in a relationship should resonate with students.

“This is a really important issue for people on campus because having healthy relationships is something everyone can learn from,” Harris said.

On Monday, the group focused on bringing attention to the Clothesline Project, a Cape Cod, Mass., organization. According to the project’s Web site, displaying the T-shirts serves as “a way of airing society’s dirty laundry.”

Weinberg junior Tehseen Ahmed, who visited the clothesline exhibit Monday and read the messages on the T-shirts, asked NCDC members for more details about the organization’s purpose.

“Just by the sheer number of T-shirts, it’s really appalling to see how many women that young have been subject to sexual assault,” Ahmed said. “It’s disheartening but at the same time it proves how important these efforts are for education.”

Jodi Kranpitz and Nicole Shane, preventive educators for the Northwest Center Against Sexual Assault answered students’ questions and brought the T-shirts, which were created by girls from the Cook County center.

“The clothesline is an effective way of reaching students because it depicts individual survivors stories made primarily by high school students in our service area,” Shane said.