Clothesline Project, Take Back the Night events aim to end domestic, sexual violence

Victims tell stories of heartbreak, hope and healing

Prevention peers Jacey Spaeth (left) and Adelyn Emter hang T-shirts for the North Dakota Clothesline Project on Monday in the UND Memorial Union’s Ballroom 214. The exhibit continues from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday and 8 a.m. to noon Friday. A Take Back the Night Rally will coincide with the Clothesline Project at 7 p.m. Thursday in Ballroom 220. A public social hour will precede that event at 6 p.m. in Ballroom 214. Photo by Janelle Vonasek/UND Today.

Words of anger, hurt, shame, despair. And, sometimes, even forgiveness.

The very personal, raw and emotional feelings of hundreds of victims of domestic abuse and sexual violence will be on display this week as the North Dakota Clothesline Project returns to the University of North Dakota’s Memorial Union.

The powerful exhibit of T-shirt testimonials marks the 26th year the University has hosted the event to raise awareness of violence in our community, said Campus Prevention & Education Specialist Allison Burkman of CVIC at UND. Moreover, she said, organizers expect more than 1,000 people to view the exhibit that’s nearly double its usual size.

Last year, only a virtual exhibit took place on campus. And the two previous years, the exhibit was moved to the UND Wellness Center while the new Memorial Union was being built.

“In the past and depending on space, we had room for maybe 200 to 300 shirts,” Burkman said. “But this year, we’re in the Memorial Union’s big ballroom (Ballroom 214), so we’re bringing in the full display.”

That full display — on loan from CAWS North Dakota, the statewide sexual and domestic violence coalition —  includes more than 450 T-shirts that tell the traumatic and brave survival stories of victims in the victims’ own artwork and words.

A pink T-shirt, color-coded to signify sexual abuse, describes one victim’s downward spiral after she was raped and her courage to fight back. Photo by Janelle Vonasek/UND Today.

Finding a voice

Both heartbreak and hope are scrawled in markers and puff paint across the T-shirts that are color-coded to signify different types of violence. White for victims who died at the hands of their perpetrators. Pink and orange for victims of rape and sexual assault. Purple for those who experienced violence based on their sexual orientation. And red, for the children who suffered or witnessed abuse.

Certainly, the messages are sobering and somber. But Burkman says they also can be very healing and empowering, especially for the victims who may be giving a visual voice to their pain for the first time.

“When someone experiences domestic violence or sexual assault, they can feel very alone. It can be very isolating,” Burkman said. “They might not know what to do or who to talk to. They wonder, ‘Will anyone believe me?’

“But that’s one of the biggest takeaways from this exhibit. When you walk through 450 shirts, you realize you’re not alone. There are resources. There’s support. There are people who care about you and want to help.”

And that help is what the exhibit is all about, she said. Staff from CVIC at UND — along with its parent organization, the Grand Forks Community Violence Intervention Center — as well as the University Counseling Center will be ready and available throughout the weeklong event.

“This is very impactful and eye-opening. We live in the Midwest, where a lot of times we say, ‘what happens in the home stays in the home.’ Or ‘it’s not any of my business,’ ” Burkman said. “But seeing something like this really makes it our business. These are our students, our classmates, our friends and family who are being hurt. We don’t want to sweep it under the rug. We want to provide options and action steps that can prevent it from happening to someone else and make a positive difference.”

Leading the way

And UND sophomore Laura Farder is just one person who’s already making that difference. As this year’s Dru Sjodin Memorial Scholarship recipient, she spoke at the event opening on Monday.

The Dru Sjodin Memorial Scholarship celebrates the life and spirit of Dru Sjodin, the UND student who was abducted and killed in 2003. And “rather than merely providing funds for academic endeavors (like many other scholarships), this scholarship provides multiple different opportunities to do one main thing: carry on a legacy,” Farder said.

Specifically, the scholarship recipient is asked to help promote safety and prevent violence at UND and in Grand Forks. “But that’s a huge thing, right?” Farder asked. “To be one person, and to try to change a communitywide issue?”

Well, no, said Farder, answering her own question. It’s not a huge thing, once a person realizes the strength that comes from working with others. “I believe in a community that works together toward a greater goal of safety,” she said. “And I wanted to be a part of that community.”

That’s where groups such as the CVIC and the events it sponsors come in, Farder said. “The Clothesline Project is a great way to start gaining knowledge, a way to see some of the horrific statistics of violence within the community, along with the lasting effects these violent acts have.

“So I hope that you take the opportunity to come here and take all of this in,” she said. “Take advantage of all that you can gain from attending this event, because it will be worthwhile.”

Strength in numbers

In addition to the North Dakota Clothesline Project, students and the Grand Forks community are invited to attend a Take Back the Night Rally at 7 p.m. Thursday in the adjacent Memorial Union Ballroom 220.

A social hour with refreshments and appetizers will kick off the event at 6 p.m. in Ballroom 214. Take Back the Night is a worldwide foundation whose mission is to create safe communities through awareness and to end sexual assault, domestic and dating violence and all other forms of sexual violence.

Campus Prevention & Education Specialist Allison Burkman of CVIC at UND says the T-shirts offer victims a chance to voice their pain and healing — some for the very first time. Photo by Janelle Vonasek/UND Today.

UND President Andrew Armacost will speak at the rally, as well as a UND student who will share her personal story about dating abuse in high school. Burkman will emcee the event, along with Grand Forks CVIC President and CEO Coiya Tompkins.

Unlike past years, Burkman said no march will follow the rally, but guests are encouraged to visit and share their stories and support.

Artistic masks created by members of the Grand Forks CVIC’s Survivor Support Group are also on display. Photo by Hannah Casey/UND Today.

If you go

  • The North Dakota Clothesline Project continues from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday and from 8 a.m. to noon Friday in the Memorial Union, Ballroom 214. The no-charge event is open to the public, and no student ID is required.
  • T-shirts, markers and paints will be available for victims and others impacted by abuse or violence who would like to add their testimonials for consideration in future rotations of the exhibit.
  • New this year will be a second, smaller exhibit of artistic masks created by members of the Grand Forks CVIC’s Survivor Support Group. The masks, which depict individual stories of healing, will coincide with the Clothesline Project in Ballroom 214.