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Clothesline Project: Sociology Students Hang Domestic Violence Out to Dry



Clare Weber's "Community Change and Community Based Activism" class wear their views on domestic violence on their sleeve - literally, with the Clothesline Project;
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Clothesline Project: Sociology Students Hang Domestic Violence Out to Dry

...knowing that other women have been helped, and that there is help out there, sends a message to the women and even to the abusers, that 'This is not going to go on anymore...'
- Lani Ho, senior (Psychology)

Students in Clare Weber’s (assistant professor of sociology and coordinator, Women’s Studies) Community Change and Community Based Activism class faced the facts about domestic violence with their version of the Clothesline Project in April.

“It’s important for students to not only study what other people do to affect change,” Weber says. “But they need to engage in it to really learn. The class examines community activism from a sociological and multiracial, multicultural, and feminist perspective. They were very nervous about the whole idea of doing an activist project, but by the end
of the semester, they were really satisfied that they accomplished something as important as the Clothesline Project.”

Kaneetria Parker, senior (Sociology) describes the project as “allowing all of us to have a voice about domestic violence, as well as giving other people who might have wanted to say something in regard to violence but were scared, a way of expressing it.”

A grassroots program that began on Cape Cod in 1990, the Clothesline Project has spread to more than 41 states and internationally, echoing the tradition of women exchanging information while hanging clothes out to dry. Survivors of violence, their family, and friends are invited to tell their stories by decorating a shirt and displaying it on a clothesline. Weber’s class created their shirts and displayed them in the campus Sculpture Garden from April 17 to 20. Apart from the creative outlet the activity gave the students, a consciousness was raised among them about a topic that few people discuss considering the number of those who have been touched by it.

“I think people stay silent about the violence that affects women because it’s one of those issues with a stigma attached to it, in order to keep women in a more subservient place in our society,” says Julie Felt, senior (Psychology). “By making it something that a woman herself doesn’t want to admit to, she won’t [talk about it]. And it will continue because of it.”

“The biggest issue for many women is shame,” says Lani Ho, senior (Sociology). “They feel like, ‘I can’t come and ask for help. My husband or boyfriend beats me and it’s my problem, I did this.’ They blame themselves. They think, ‘There has to be something I did to deserve to be beaten up.’ And I think that issue keeps them from making a call for help.”

Gender bias also affects the male abuser, according to David Tiano, junior (Sociology), who describes “living in a sexist society where men can grow up and learn that they potentially have this power that they can abuse in certain ways. Maybe some guys feel like they have that advantage where they can do certain things and won’t be punished for them.”

Parker underscores the role of culture mores in dealing – or not dealing – with domestic violence.

“Across the board with a lot of cultures, it’s not discussed,” she says. “It’s kept behind closed doors, and women are made to feel ashamed. The abuser makes the victim believe it’s their fault, so they don’t want to voice their opinion or they think they are contributing to what’s happening to them, causing them to be silent.”

Ho echoes her sentiments, saying, “Domestic violence is an issue that is kept at home, it’s considered a family issue. For many years, when you would report something like that to the police, they would say, ‘It’s a domestic issue, you have to solve it because you are husband and wife.’ It has often gotten out of hand where police officers would answer domestic calls where the woman could be beaten up or even dead.

“We now know how prevalent it is. After that’s all done with, [the man has] used his power, whether it’s physical or verbal, threatening the woman with, ‘If you say anything, or do anything, I’m going to tell the police what you’ve done. I’m going to take your children away. You’re an illegal immigrant, you’re going to be sent back to your home, you’ll never see your family again and I’ll shame you.’”

“As some of the students said, violence against women or more correctly put - men's violence against women, cuts across differences of race-ethnicity, class and culture,” says Weber. “Nevertheless, the needs of women may vary depending on their social location. Students learned through assigned readings and a presentation by Interval House, which has specific programs designed for the needs of a multiethnic and racial community. For example, they have intake counselors from over 30 different language groups.”

“Just being aware of it, knowing that other women have been helped, and that there is help out there, sends a message to the women and even to the abusers, that ‘This is not going to go on anymore, and if it does, there’s help,’” says Ho. “Hopefully, it will help the women and the abusers as well. This issue has been hush-hush for too long. As soon as she recognizes it’s a problem, then and only then, can she change it.”

- Joanie Harmon

(L-R, top to bottom) Mark Thorn, senior (English); Kaneetria Parker, senior (Sociology);
Jason DiPasquali, junior (Sociology); Markus Davis, senior (Psychology); Erin Burr,
senior (Psychology); Rachele McDonald, junior (Communications); Christine Perez, senior
(Sociology); Grace Mosequera, senior (Psychology); Julie Felt, senior (Psychology);
Karissa Quintana, junior (Psychology); Bernice Brandes, junior (Sociology); David Tiano, Jr.,
junior (Sociology); Somporn Rangis, senior (Political Science); Martha Tesfamariam, senior
(Psychology); Naoko Takeuchi, junior (Sociology); Jessica Villanueva, senior (Public
Administration); Erica Lester, senior (Psychology); Clare Weber, assistant professor of sociology and coordinator, Women's Studies; Lani Ho, senior (Sociology); Rosalia Vasquez, junior (Psychology); and Brenda Alvarez-Leon, senior (Sociology). Photo by Joanie Harmon



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Last updated Wednesday, May 17, 2006, 1:52 p.m., by Joanie Harmon