From classroom to public statement, UK students send a message about violent crime with t-shirt project

An attendee of the Clothesline Project event peers through some of the t-shirts arrayed into an art display inside the Don and Cathy Jacobs Science Building on April 12, 2018, in Lexington, Kentucky. Photo by Rick Childress | Staff

Cathryn Perini

Students took the conversation around violent crime into their own hands Thursday evening.

Sociology 439, a class taught by Emily Bonistall Postel, held an event to boost awareness for violent crimes.The class took the initiative to create this project led by Ann Pitts and Brendan Mathews after only three weeks in the course, according to Bonistall Postel.

“We had spent three weeks talking about how the media treats crime victims,” Bonistall Postel said. “And how the impact is tough, and setting the foundation for some of these harder conversations. They were like, ‘Well when do we get to talk about what we get to do?’”

The main attraction at Thursday’s event was the Clothesline Project. Started in 1990, the Clothesline Project is intended to address violence against women and has now made its way to Kentucky. T-shirts were hung in the Don and Cathy Jacobs Science Building after inclement winds forced the class to move the event inside.

Halfway through the event, the crowd of supporters was led back outside to hear a lineup of speakers, starting with Bonistall Postel.

“We see you. We support you. You are not alone,” Bonistall Postel said in her speech.

Although dealing with a difficult subject, those involved still remained lighthearted. Bonistall Postel mentioned that they even invited Joe Biden to attend the event, but their luck had to run out somewhere.

Following Bonistall Postel, President Eli Capilouto took the podium, speaking of his pride for the university and how it handles violent crimes. UK conducted the first extensive survey in the country regarding sexual assault in the United States, he said.

The Kentucky Attorney General, Andy Beshear, also gave a few words.

One in two Kentucky women will experience some kind of sexual assault in their lifetime, Beshear said. His seven-year-old daughter is a driving force behind his passion about the issue of victimizing women.

After Beshear, students Ann Pitts and Brendan Mathews gave powerful speeches regarding victimization.

“For far too long, we have all been a part of, and maybe contributed to, a culture that tells survivors that they are not seen and do not matter,” Mathews said in his speech.

Between Pitts and Mathews, Frances Meres, a blogger on behalf of domestic violence victims, gave a tearful speech and told her story of an eight-year-long abusive relationship.

Meres told the audience that she was thankful for everyday things that she was not allowed to do in her relationship, like wearing her hair down and not having to report how much money she spent on breakfast.

She said that she was thankful for her house, which she bought herself, and her car, which she bought herself, and everything in her life that she had done herself.

Meres’ blog has a program called ‘Heroes,’ which allows survivors of domestic abuse to share their story anonymously, and Meres will compile stories of people of all ages and genders.

Bonistall Postel wrapped up the speeches in a tearful appreciation for her students.

While people began to exchange hugs and congratulations, Bonistall Postel encouraged a former student, Eddie Torrance, to take the microphone in an impromptu fashion and share his story of abuse and violence. Torrance also handed out poems that shared his story.

Last month, students and other members of the UK community were invited to design a t-shirt to tell their stories with violence and abuse.

Some t-shirts displayed had writing or drawings, while other were tie dyed, which used the colors represented certain types of abuse, like child abuse and sexual abuse, to show the overlap between them.

Outside, there was a wall with notecards hung on it that said words of encouragement. Attendees were encouraged to find one with words they needed to hear and take it with them.

Residential Life funded most of the event through Mathew’s coordination, but the event was also sponsored by the Violence Intervention and Protection center as well as UKPD.