In honor of the Clothesline Project, the Office for Violence Prevention and Victim Assistance (VPVA) transformed the Campus Quad into a memorial ground on September 21, 2023. Shirts of various colors hung from clothing lines strung between wooden poles, each emblazoned with a message handcrafted by students with the victims of interpersonal violence in mind. The Clothesline Project, which began in the 1990s on Cape Cod, Massachusetts, is a visible display that honors survivors and victims of sexual and/or physical violence. As a national event, the project also raises awareness about the various types of violence that people in campus communities have experienced.
“The Clothesline Project can be very healing for survivors, and I’m open to any way in which I can offer healing,” says Laura Luciano, Director of Rutgers-Camden’s VPVA since 2017. “[It’s] understanding that there is a process to healing, and if you’re a survivor, you can make a shirt one year, and what you put out then might be very different from the next year because you’ve changed and grown, and you’re in a different place with it.”
Each shirt color—white, yellow, red, pink, orange, blue, green, purple, and black—represents a group of victims. Yellow, for instance, represents victims or survivors of sexual harassment, while green speaks to victims or survivors of military sexual trauma. These shirts are arranged in piles on tables, alongside fabric-compatible gel paint that students then use to write messages of support, either to themselves or to a victim or survivor they know. One red shirt cries, “BELIEVE AND SUPPORT MALE SURVIVORS,” while a blue one tells survivors, “Don’t feel shame.”
Luciano notes that, occasionally, she’ll have a student who’s eager to write a message, but secretly. In such instances, she lends a shirt and some paint supplies to them, so long as they promise that they’ll return the supplies once they’ve completed the project. She tries to make it accessible to everyone so “people can participate in a way that feels most comfortable and safest for them.” All students are invited to make a shirt, though Luciano admits that this open policy runs the risk of attracting students “who just want to have an arts and crafts moment,” consequently undercutting the project’s mission of honoring survivors’ voices as such students often produce “generic messages.” Moreover, information explaining the project’s purpose is clearly displayed for anyone who would prefer to simply observe the display.
“It’s powerful for the community and also survivors, who recognize that they aren’t alone,” says Luciano, speaking on the project’s impact. “Every shirt is different, and every shirt can have an impact on someone. Some shirts are very angry, some are very sad, and some are hopeful—there’s a message for everyone and the potential to be impacted.”
The project has been consistently observed on the Rutgers-Camden campus since 2014/15, two years before the VPVA was established on campus. Prior to 2014, the clothesline from Rutgers-New Brunswick—where Luciano initially worked as Assistant Director—was transported to the Camden campus each year. Per Luciano’s testimony, it was the Student Nurses’ Association that began hosting the project before the VPVA’s institution on the Camden campus, pointing again to the legacy of student self-advocacy on the Camden campus. “It was consistent because people wanted to host it,” says Luciano.
Kaseem Edwards, a business management major with a Spanish minor who volunteered to set up the project with Luciano, underscores the importance of this project being planted on the Camden campus, too. “I’m glad they’re doing it at RU-C [Rutgers-Camden], because stuff [interpersonal violence] like this exists, and I’m glad that the university recognizes there’s a support system on campus to help you with whatever you need for situations like these.”
Indeed, Luciano highlights that the VPVA exists for such a mandate—to support survivors in whatever ways they need. Through the facilitation of on-campus events, the VPVA strives to prevent interpersonal violence by raising awareness—educating students on what healthy communication in healthy relationships looks like, for example—and encouraging bystander intervention through Up2Us, a community-based approach to stopping crimes before they happen by empowering students to safely interfere if sexual and/or physical violence occurs while they are witnesses. When violence cannot be prevented, the VPVA also provides direct support to students who have had such traumatic experiences through a 24-hour crisis response, ongoing counseling and support, and both legal and medical advocacy. VPVA exists, as Luciano stresses, to help students make “informed decisions” for “what makes most sense in [their] lives.”
“My hope is that survivors know they will be believed and supported, and there is a place for them to come for support,” Luciano expresses. “My hope is that I am not the only support person—that if you tell a friend, a peer, or a professor, you will be met with the same support and care wherever you go.”
If you have experienced violence of any kind in your relationships and would like to speak with someone, call 856-225-2326 or make an appointment at vpva.camden.rutgers.edu.