Turn Off the Violence Week Calls Attention to Violence Against Women

Posted: September 29, 2011 at 8:24 am

By Erin Cushing

The Clothesline Project

Mason's annual Clothesline Project gives a voice to victims of violence. Photo by Evan Cantwell

Violence on college campuses is a difficult issue to discuss. But the fact remains that sexual and dating violence is prevalent across the country. At Mason, Sexual Assault Services, headed by director Connie Kirkland, devised a weeklong series of events dedicated to helping the Mason community work to end violence against women and to honor its victims. Turn Off the Violence Week will be observed at Mason Oct. 3-8.

Turn Off the Violence began in 1997 as a community event in response to an initiative for a National Turn Off the Violence day. Kirkland, then a board member of the Fairfax-based antisexual violence group Friends of VAN, organized simultaneous weeklong events at Mason and in the Northern Virginia community in partnership with 25 local organizations.

The community event ceased in 2000, but Turn Off the Violence Week continued on the Fairfax Campus, combining national and international campaigns with experiences unique to Mason.

Raising Awareness

One of the most recognizable events of the week happens on Tuesday, Oct. 4: Take Back the Night Rally and March. The rally will begin outside the Johnson Center and end with a march through campus to raise awareness of sexual violence. Take Back the Night was created in October 1975 to protest the number of violent crimes against women taking place after dark.

Also returning to Mason this year on Oct. 7 and 8 is “The Goddess Diaries,” which is a series of monologues written by local playwright Carol Lee Campbell. The monologues feature stories about women’s experiences throughout the stages of life. Although this will be the second year that “The Goddess Diaries” has been presented on campus, Kirkland encourages community members to give it a second look.

“Campbell is such a fluid playwright; she has added new monologues to address violence against women. There are also three new accounts revealing the trauma of violence,” she says.

Other changes to the performance include improvisational dances presented by Mason students and an African drum played by a community member to provide the “beat” of the play. The cast is split between Mason students and Northern Virginia community members.

Honoring Victims

A grove of trees on the Fairfax Campus is the setting for The Clothesline Project, which has collected more than 500 T-shirts over the years. Photo by Evan Cantwell

Kirkland’s favorite event of the week is undoubtedly the most visible: The Clothesline Project. Throughout the week, the trees in the groves between Fenwick Library and the Student Union Building I will be strung with clothesline displaying T-shirts decorated by campus community members. Shirts are designed to honor victims of violence or to speak out against sexual violence crimes.

“It’s a great example of passive programming. We don’t have to say a word, but just looking at these shirts can have a profound impact on a person,” Kirkland says.

The Clothesline Project will be accompanied by the White Ribbon Campaign, an international initiative begun in Canada to educate men and boys about sexual and dating violence. Male members of the Mason community will be offering white ribbons to fellow males to wear as a sign of their commitment to never participate in or condone violence against women. Fraternity members, athletes and members of the Army ROTC will be handing out ribbons throughout the week.

“We have a lot of male involvement in Turn Off the Violence Week,” reports Kirkland. “It’s good to see.”

A Safe Haven

The same grove of trees will play host to one more event that is unique to Mason. On Wednesday, Oct. 5, at 7 p.m., blankets will be laid on the ground for Survivor Space, a safe haven for women to talk about their experiences with sexual abuse, dating violence or sexual assault. It’s meant as a safe and supportive place for survivors to explore the impact of these experiences on their lives and talk through them with people who can relate. Kirkland finds it to be a very powerful event.

“It’s always been a small group of people, no more than 12. But we’ve had experiences in the past where this has been the first time a woman has spoken about her experience,” Kirkland says.

Turn Off the Violence Week is an important tool for Sexual Assault Services. It establishes the office’s mission, services and role on campus, and educates the larger community on the issues of sexual violence.

“When a crime is over, it isn’t over. It continues to heavily impact the survivor’s life,” Kirkland explains. “If there is one message to hear from Turn Off the Violence, that is it.”

For a full schedule of Turn Off the Violence Week events, see the Sexual Assault Services website or e-mail Kirkland at ckirklan@gmu.edu. Tickets to “The Goddess Diaries” may be purchased online (free tickets for students are available through the Office of Student Involvement).


Write to mediarel at gazette@gmu.edu