‘What Were They Wearing’ display uplifts sexual assault survivors


Photo by Ari Ismail for The Lafayette

‘What Were They Wearing’ highlights four stories from survivors.

In honor of Sexual Assault Awareness Month (SAAM), Lafayette’s Peer Anti-Violence Educators (PAVE) hosted a week-long display from April 7 to April 13 called “What Were They Wearing” as a way to recognize the survivors of sexual assault.

Student Advocacy and Prevention coordinator Katy Bednarsky managed the display, while PAVE member Lizzie Diacik ’23 spearheaded the project.

“This display is one that is made by and for students and survivors at Lafayette,” Bednarsky wrote in an email. 

“The ‘What Were They Wearing’ project is a passive, week-long display to target victim-blaming myths that certain clothing invites sexual assault and elevate the stories of Lafayette survivors,” Bednarsky wrote. “The display features four anonymous student stories tied to mock outfits of what they were wearing at the time of the incident.”

The outfits and notes are hung up in the Gendebien Room in Skillman Library. The Office of Sustainability donated the clothes from its thrift store.

The idea for “What Were They Wearing” came when Bednarsky and Diacik looked at what efforts other schools have made for SAAM in the past.

“I hope that students walk away with a different perspective, challenging myths around rape culture, specifically that certain types of clothing invite sexual violence,” Bednarsky wrote.  “It is something that can happen to anyone, regardless of age, gender identity or expression, race, ethnicity or sexual orientation.”

According to Diacik, “What Were They Wearing” required a long process to implement and curate, dating back to last semester. 

“It’s a very sensitive sort of display,” Diacik said. “We had conversations with the whole group of fourteen peer educators and Katy talking about if we think this would be an appropriate thing to do with the school, and if so, where it should be and how we should go about it so that it would be not sort of too triggering or something for anybody on campus.”

Through posters hung around campus, PAVE invited students to submit anonymous anecdotes to be included in the display. It was important to the group to create a safe space for survivors to share their stories, so all responses went directly to Bednarsky and remained confidential.

The display is part of a bigger project during SAAM hosted by Campus Life in collaboration with PAVE, Pards Against Sexual Assault and Student Advocacy and Prevention. Each week has a different theme on which to focus events, including “Community Mobilizing,” “Supporting Survivors/Survivor Stories,” “Healthy Sexuality and Healthy Relationships” and “Ending with Community Unity/Action.” 

“What Were They Wearing” falls into the theme of “Supporting Survivors/Survivor Stories.” The week also included a tabling event hosted by PAVE where people could write letters to survivors of sexual assault. 

“I hope that the survivors who participated in this project by sharing their stories feel uplifted, honored and seen this SAAM,” Bednarsky wrote.