The Monument Quilt: Upsetting Rape Culture at Wesleyan

national mall quilt

This image originally appeared on upsettingrapeculture.com

You may have heard of the group FORCE: Upsetting Rape Culture when they tricked the internet into believing that Playboy Magazine had published a story called “The Ultimate Guide to A Consensual Good Time.” Or maybe they grabbed your attention with their faux fashion line “Pink Loves Consent.” If not, you will definitely notice FORCE when they bring a 250-square Monument Quilt to Foss Hill on Tuesday, September 2, from 3:00 p.m. to 7:00 p.m. This demonstration will be too large for anyone on campus to ignore.

Thanks to the tireless efforts of Chloe Murtagh ’15 and other campus activists, Wesleyan is the last stop on the Monument Quilt’s nationwide tour. The Quilt has been displayed in twelve other locations this year, starting in Arden, North Carolina, and stopping in cities like Chicago, Des Moines, Pittsburgh, and New York City. At the moment, the quilt contains 250 squares that document the stories of survivors of rape and sexual abuse. FORCE has collected additional squares at every stop on the quilt’s tour, and these pieces will be added to the original monument quilt. Once assembled, the quilt be over a mile long and will spell out “Not Alone.” The finished artifact will be shown on the National Mall in 2016.

According to the project’s website, the quilt will be created and displayed for two purposes. First of all, it will serve as a public memorial to thousands of survivors of sexual violence. “By stitching our stories together, we are creating and demanding public space to heal,” the organization writes. Similarly, FORCE argues that creating a public moment draws the public’s attention to the problem of rape and sexual abuse. “The Monument Quilt gives churches, schools, towns and our country clear and accessible steps to support survivors of rape and abuse when often, people don’t know where to begin.”

According to FORCE, it is important to remember and acknowledge painful moments in our nation’s history, as many fixtures on the National Mall already do. “The existing monuments on the national mall are places to honor the heroes of our history, to grieve the losses of violence, and to remember and reflect. When our nation remembers difficult parts of our history, we are better able to prevent injustice and atrocities from repeating.” The physical monument makes the problem visible, and honors those who have suffered. However, as FORCE points out, “This important public process has not happened with sexual violence.”

Secondly, through this display, FORCE aims to change the national discourse on sexual violence. They write, “The Monument Quilt is a platform to not only tell our stories, but work together to forever change how Americans respond to rape. We are creating a new culture where survivors are publicly supported rather than publicly shamed.” In a country where survivors are often blamed, ostracized, or disbelieved when they share their stories, the Monument Quilt is a positive oasis where survivors are reminded that they are not alone.

This image originally appeared on themonumentquilt.org

This image originally appeared on themonumentquilt.org

Since FORCE is working on a national level, Murtagh partnered with the organization to effect change on a local scale. She hopes that displaying the quilt will send a strong message. “This is exactly the tone that we want to send to the campus community,” she says. “It’s about survivors and it’s about progress.” She agrees with FORCE’s philosophy that public displays are an important way to acknowledge the problem of sexual assault. “This event will create a public space for healing for survivors of rape and sexual abuse. Not a secret place, not a hiding place, but a public place where everyone in the community will support them and not judge them.”

Murtagh hopes that displaying the quilt will help spark a change in the campus culture. Like other activists, she has noticed that students who come forward with stories of rape and sexual abuse are not often given a warm reception. Instead, they can be shamed for sharing their experience and blamed for the trauma that happened to them. While not everyone on campus reacts this way, there is a vocal minority who do.

Murtagh, and the twenty-five other organizers who have brought the Monument Quilt to campus, would like these attitudes to change. “The idea is completely create a new culture, at least for this one day. We want to set a tone of complete commitment to the issue of sexual violence on and off campus, and to set a tone of our community. From now on, we are going to publicly support survivors and advocate for them instead of shaming them and questioning them.”

Of course, students are only a part of the campus community, and Murtagh hopes that the Monument Quilt’s display will spark a change within the administration. “In terms of policy, the administration needs to work on creating a system where survivors are believed. Our policy should support and advocate for survivors.” She believes that the Monument Quilt will effect progress on multiple levels. “Hopefully, positive changes will play out in our social interactions, and how students, faculty, staff and administration engage with survivors who are discussing their experiences.”

quilt shot birminghamThe event on Tuesday has multiple components. In addition to the display of the quilt, there will be four speakers at the event, and the speeches will start around 5:30 PM. One of the co-founders of FORCE, Rebecca Nagle, will give a presentation. Alysha Warren, Wesleyan’s Sexual Violence Resource Coordinator and Therapist, will speak, as well as a representative from the Middletown Women and Families Center. Also, a student poet will read their work. The most high-profile guests will be Connecticut Senators Richard Blumenthal and Chris Murphy. Senator Blumenthal is spearheading a bi-partisan bill called “The Campus Accountability and Safety Act,” and will most likely speak about this piece of legislation.

In addition to the display of the quilt (which, in the event of rain, will be shown in Beckham Hall), there will be several open discussion groups. Students for Consent and Communication will lead one facilitation. Another discussion will touch upon issues of intersectionality and sexual violence. The facilitators will address the unique experiences of women of color, male survivors, trans people, and undocumented immigrants (among others) who experience sexual violence. Both of these discussions will be held in small tents surrounding the larger quilt, and all are welcome to participate. There will be another open station where students can sit, reflect, and make crafts. This artwork, along with quotes from attendees, will be collected into a zine.

Concurrently, there will be an art show in Zelnick Pavilion called “Experience and Messages of Support.”

hands monument quiltThe show was coordinated by Tess Altman ’17, Denisse Reyes ’15, Yiyang Wang ’15, and Kate Weiner ’15. Reyes explains, “We decided to do the show in conjunction with the Monument Quilt because we thought it would be a good idea to have a place where people could relax and heal. We want a space where people can be comfortable.” The coordinators will display paintings and drawings that expresses positive messages for survivors of sexual violence. The show may also feature music and performance art. Students are welcoming to submit artwork until Monday, September 1, at midnight. 

Reyes believes that art plays an important role in the healing process for survivors. “Art is such a cathartic thing, and it’s an important way to express yourself. The goal is healing in all ways – for artists and for people on campus.” Survivors may take comfort in creating art for display at the show, but they will also be reminded that many people on campus support them. “They’re [made] aware that their peers are involved in the healing process and are listening to them,” adds Reyes.

The coordinators hope to display artwork by survivors and also by those who stand in solidarity with them. “It takes pressure off of survivors so that they’re not ‘outing’ themselves if they don’t want to, ” Reyes explains. Murtagh agrees that everyone can participate in the conversation about sexual assault on campus. “It affects everyone,” she points out.

If you are inspired by the art show and the Monument Quilt display, you also can participate in a quilt-making workshop on Sunday, September 7. These squares will be added to the larger Monument Quilt. The workshop will be held at 27 Brainerd Road from 1:00 to 5:00 pm, though the location and time are subject to change. The final details will likely be posted to Wesleying later this week.

You can also combat rape culture by enrolling in We Speak We Stand Bystander Intervention Trainings this week. These sessions train students on how to help their peers if they witness a potential dangerous situation. They will be held on Thursday, September 4th from 5:30 to 8:30 PM, and on Sunday, September 7th, from 10:00 AM to 1:00 PM. Food will be provided, and participants must be available for the entire session. You can sign up for a session here before Wednesday, September 3rd.

Finally, though the Monument Quilt is only here for a day, the culture that it criticizes will persist for many semesters unless the majority of the campus community decides to make a change. If you are moved by the Monument Quilt, think about how you can support survivors and prevent sexual violence. Rape culture is pervasive in our language, actions, policies, and institutions at this school. We are the only ones can decide to eradicate it.