The Clothesline Project is seen outside of the Collins Center on Ohio University’s Southern Campus.
Photographer: Michelle Dotts
Messages posted on t-shirts designed for the Clothesline Project are seen on the Southern Campus.
Photographer: Micah Melton
Apr 1, 2014
By Shelly Betz
From a distance, a colorful array of t-shirts could be seen blowing in the wind on an unseasonably warm day at Ohio University’s Southern Campus in Ironton. In fact, the familiar Southern tradition of hanging clothes to dry upon a clothesline is more a way of life for many who either prefer the fresh smell that lingers throughout their laundry, or otherwise may not have access to a clothes dryer.
Still, the t-shirts that recently adorned the clothesline in the courtyard of the Southern Campus have very little to do with a clean-air scent or domestic chores. Instead, they represented something far more serious and important—violence against women. This is the Clothesline Project. It began in 1990 on Cape Cod, Mass., to raise awareness about violence against women. The effort has since spread worldwide and touches the lives of millions of women, men and children. Various colors of t-shirts represent a specific type of violence against women and are covered with messages of hope, recognition and sometimes anger from people who want to share their experiences.
For Michelle Dotts, a senior majoring in history at Ohio University Southern who spearheaded the Clothesline Project there, it strikes a personal chord. As a child, she witnessed violence in her home. She is also a survivor of childhood sexual abuse. Dotts first became aware of the project while attending Wright State University more than a decade ago. And while she may have endured unspeakable and equally tragic incidents of violence, Dotts is determined to break the cycle and help others.
“It does not define me. It’s just part of my past. We need people to know that domestic violence is not OK,” she said.
Students, faculty and staff decorated the t-shirts with messages such as: “I am not a victim. I am a survivor,” “Real men beat eggs,” and “Every time you mistreat a woman, you give up the right to be treated like a man.” Some chose to represent their story with images of strength. Each one is unique to the person who designed it.
“With the Clothesline Project, the issue of violence against women is really in your face in a way that is impossible to ignore,” added Dotts.
Another unique aspect of the Clothesline Project is how other students and faculty at the Southern Campus embraced the initiative. When Purba Das, assistant professor of communication studies, learned about it, she decided to involve students from her Women and Health Communication class. As part of a class assignment, students were informed about the purpose of the project and required to design a t-shirt to display along the clothesline. Some t-shirts were sent from students at the Lancaster, Zanesville and Chillicothe campuses as well as from students at the University’s Proctorville Center who took the class as part of the Ohio University learning network.
“I wanted my students to understand that violence against women has far-reaching consequences. Not only does it affect their physical wellbeing, but also their emotional and psychological health,” Das said.
For Allison Williams, a sophomore communications major and student in Das’ class, the Clothesline Project helped her to see things in a different light. While she has no personal experience of violence against women, she recalled a friend from high school who did. Her friend’s mother endured beatings by her husband. On at least one occasion, he turned his violence toward his daughter when she tried to defend her mother against him.
“She never knew if it would be a good day or bad day for them. There were times when I am sure she did not want to go home at all,” Williams said.
As Dotts prepares for graduation this spring, her ambitions are high. She plans to pursue a Ph.D. in history and return to the Southern Campus as a professor one day.
“I’ve always had an overwhelming desire to be better than the environment that I was exposed to while growing up,” she said.
Dotts hopes the Clothesline Project continues on the Southern Campus for many years to come after passing the torch to another student who shares her passion for the cause.
“Through their participation in this project, my students have a unique opportunity to learn about the impact of violence against women and the ways in which they can rise above such circumstances,” said Das.