As the interpersonal violence intern for the University of Oklahoma’s Women’s Outreach Center, I was honored to involve the university community in FORCE’s Monument Quilt Project. Because we cannot prevent sexual assault or solve the problems stemming from sexual assault without first talking about it, our quilts were an important tenant to our Sexual Assault Awareness programming – allowing people to ask about the quilt and read other’s messages on existing quilts. The Monument Quilts allowed each participant to take ownership with his or her signature, message, or drawing.
By holding quilt workshops in classrooms, during student organization meetings, and inside and outside our student union, I was able to reach a wide range of students and learned that knowledge of sexual assault and its impact varied across campus. Many didn’t believe one in three women will be sexually assaulted in their lifetime, one in six men will be sexually assaulted before the age of 18, or two thirds of sexual assaults are committed by someone known to the victim.
After being surprised by the statistics, most were inclined to make their mark on the quilt. Many asked for more information about OU’s Women’s Outreach Center to become involved in our mission to empower and advocate with and on behalf of women for their safety, wellness, and equality. A few participants volunteered to help me with programming for Sexual Assault Awareness Month.
Two experiences were seared in my mind during a particular quilt workshop, proving that advocacy and awareness are two very important components to prevention and rehabilitation.
During a workshop event open to passersby, two people holding hands approached my table after I asked them if they would like to sign the quilt in support of survivors of sexual assault and rape. While the female tuned in to my discussion, asked questions, and signed the quilt, the male stood to the side, tuned out, and waited for her to finish her mark. Acknowledging I did not know anything about these people, their perspectives, or their experiences, I still wondered why the male was disinclined to sign the quilt. Many males who had signed the quilt during my workshops made remarks about how sexual assault and rape were women’s issues and that they stood with them in solidarity. Though their hearts were in the right place, I corrected each of them, explaining how such issues do not discriminate gender, sexual orientation, age, ability, socioeconomic status, or any other factor.
The second significant encounter was brief. The participant listened to me explain FORCE’s mission and softly remarked how she was personally affected while she signed the quilt. I have been a member of the University of Oklahoma community for five years, and this person was familiar to me. I was inspired by her bravery to share her story, hurt by the hurt she experienced, and angered by my newfound ability to associate sexual assault with one more face from the university community. Statistics can be anonymous numbers, but giving a face to an experience – a face that belongs to one of the places I call home, my university – is powerful, personal, and disturbing.
Monument Quilt workshops can dispel myths about sexual assault and rape, provide survivors and allies with a space to talk and heal, and connect participants to community and national resources. It was an honor to involve the University of Oklahoma with a project on a national scale, but it is important to recognize sexual assault and rape is a local issue. While our voices will be heard across the country during The Monument Quilt demonstrations, they were heard at home during workshops on campus. The workshops enraged some, mobilized others, and prompted many to think about sexual assault and rape differently.