SAGE kicks off sexual assault awareness series

USC’s Student Assembly for Gender Empowerment held its “Take Back the Night” opening ceremony Sunday for its two-week long Sexual Assault Awareness series.

The Clothesline Project is a visual display designed to raise awareness by “airing out the dirty laundry” of sexual assault on campus. Emily Smith | Daily Trojan

In light of sexual assault awareness month this year, SAGE coordinated with several student organizations for their annual series, which features “spaces for sexual assault survivors to be heard,” according to its event page on Facebook. Throughout the week, SAGE will be hosting several activities and programs, including a GLOW exercise class with Body Positive SC this Wednesday and a writing workshop led by author Olivia Gatwood.

One of the student volunteers, Alec Vandenberg, contributed to SAGE’s “Take Back the Night” opening ceremony on Sunday by hanging T-shirts with messages from student sexual assault and sexual violence survivors.

“I think what’s really important is that there’s a physical manifestation of our commitment to protect survivors and it’s kind of bringing this physical demonstration to increase collective awareness and action,” said Vandenberg, a sophomore majoring in public policy.

Every year, t-shirts are hung from clotheslines to kick off the week. Former President Barack Obama and his administration helped build the conversation on sexual assault incidents on campuses with their “It’s On Us” campaign. “Take Back the Night” is one of these efforts to keep up those conversations.

“As a signature event for SAGE, this is something that has been very central to our mission in raising awareness surrounding sexual assault and sexual violence and power-based violence and cultivating a safe space for survivors,” said SAGE co-executive director Anya Kushwaha, a sophomore majoring in global health and non-governmental organizations and social change. “Especially on a college campus, I think that this is a super crucial series that we support.”

The t-shirts will line the perimeter of the park until Thursday night, when there will be a candle vigil ceremony honoring victims and survivors of sexual assault and violence.

According to Erika Mollinedo-Piñon, a senior majoring in cinema and media studies and narrative studies, in the past, “Take Back the Night” was a week-long series of events specifically focused on sexual assault survivors. However, this year, SAGE expanded the week to an overarching Sexual Assault Awareness Series.

“[For this event], we’re working with member organizations, like with the Women of Cinematic Arts and Artemis and [other] organizations on campus to expand that process,” Mollinedo-Piñon said.

According to Kushwaha, the Clothesline Project in particular is a visual display dedicated to raising awareness about sexual violence and takes place at many different campuses across the country. It is symbolic of survivors “airing out their dirty laundry,” Kushwaha said.

“We opened up the space to anyone who was willing and able to contribute and share their stories or their thoughts,” she said. “A lot of them are very personal quotes from [survivors’] assailants or some of them were more general experiences or thoughts regarding sexual violence. They’re super powerful, and one of my favorite parts of Take Back the Night.”