SPARTANBURG - Don't be afraid to tell someone.
He did not break me.
You think you made me a victim, but I'm a survivor.
You are worthy.
Converse loves you.
Those messages, painted boldly on T-shirts and hung on a clothesline, blew in the wind for all to see on the Converse College campus recently. Some came from students who are rape or sexual abuse survivors, others from supporters hoping to raise awareness of the issue.
Rachel Epperly, a double major in philosophy and psychology, with a minor in women's studies, was inspired by the national Clothesline Project, and applied for a Creative Collaborative Grant from the college, receiving $2,500. She and fellow junior Keeli Wofford also have planned a screening of the documentary "It was Rape" and a panel discussion of the issue in April, and they want to create a safe space on campus where victims of sexual assault will feel safe reporting a crime, talking about it and healing.
Wofford's shirt hangs on the line. It reads, "You think you made me a victim, but I'm a survivor." She says she was raped before she came to college.
"It was very freeing," Wofford said of the clothesline project. "This is the first time I've been able to open up and talk to others about it. I think this is a major part of the healing process."
Sarah Reinhardt, also a junior, created a T-shirt based on her own experience of childhood sexual abuse. Her message: Not your fault.
She said she felt empowered after painting her shirt and placing it on the clothesline.
"As a rape victim, I have really struggled with blaming myself," Reinhardt said. "It brings down my self-esteem."
Last year, Reinhardt began serving as a community adviser at Converse, a "hall mom" of sorts for about 30 freshmen living on campus. It was then she learned that many other young women are survivors of sexual assault, and she felt moved to speak out.
"It affects women and men alike, and we need to stop it," Reinhardt said. "We've had a phenomenal response from the campus."
The Clothesline Project started in Cape Cod, Mass., in 1990 to address the issue of violence against women, according to www.clotheslineproject.org. It is a vehicle for women affected by violence to express their emotions by decorating a shirt, then hanging the shirt on a clothesline to be viewed by others as testimony to the problem of violence against women, according to the website.
Epperly visited New York City last year for a weeklong feminist intensive hosted by SoapBox Inc. She met theorists, authors, activists and nonprofit organizers to discuss ways to incorporate feminist philosophy into not only a future career path, but everyday life, she said.
One of the highlights of Epperly's week in New York included a spoken word poetry workshop on "the power of claiming space and words," hosted at the apartment of noted feminist Gloria Steinem, Epperly said. Now, the project Epperly has spearheaded claims space and words along the clothesline strung for hundreds of feet near the back of campus, with the shirts gently flapping in the wind. About 200 shirts were expected to be hung with their somber or empowering messages. The public was recently invited to come take a look.
Epperly, Wofford and others assisted students and faculty at the Montgomery Student Center in creating their shirts.
Epperly said the response to the project has been overwhelming and positive.
"This was really to open up the conversation," she said.
"That we're all in this together," added freshman Kennady Kent.
Information from: Herald-Journal, http://www.goupstate.com
T-shirts display messages on the Clothesline Project at Converse College in Spartanburg, S.C, on Feb. 20, 2014. The project addresses rape and domestic violence, with students painting empowering messages against sexual assault and violence on T-shirts, which are displayed on a clothesline in the middle of the quad at the campus. (AP Photo/Spartanburg Herald-Journal/Tim Kimzey)×
From left, Rachel Epperly, Kennady Kent, Sarah Reinhardt, and Keeli Wofford stand at the Clothesline Project at Converse College in Spartanburg, S.C, on Feb. 20, 2014. The project addresses rape and domestic violence, with students painting empowering messages against sexual assault and violence on T-shirts, which are displayed on a clothesline in the middle of the quad at the campus. (AP Photo/Spartanburg Herald-Journal/Tim Kimzey)×