ASHLAND, Ohio (WOIO) - Students at Ashland University say the school is suppressing the voices of sexual assault survivors after portions of the display were removed from the student center.
The ‘Clothesline Project’ is a visual demonstration where t-shirts are hung on clotheslines; each has a handwritten message or personal story related to sexual trauma.
The school removed some of the shirts.
“Essentially, it all boils down to the suppression of survivor voices and free speech on campus,” said Reina Britt, a sophomore and founder of the campus advocacy group, Elevate.
Dr. Robert Pool, the Vice President for Student Affairs at Ashland University, told 19 News that some shirts were removed because they potentially identified some people or revealed private details.
“The University has an obligation to ensure the statements made against these individuals are factually accurate,” the school said in an earlier statement. “By the nature of The Clothesline Project, ensuring that factual accuracy is not possible.”
The statement, which was posted on the school’s website and social media platforms, also addressed sexual assault as a whole.
“Ashland University, to a person, stands against all forms of sexual abuse and mistreatment of any kind.”
Students aren’t buying it.
“Their response wasn’t adequate; I feel like they just blamed people for speaking out about it,” said senior Juliet Touma.
“It just proved how much the university wanted to sweep this all under the rug,” Britt added.
Pool told 19 News that because the university was a co-sponsor of the display, officials were required to remove unverified materials.
Touma has been vocal on social media about the decision.
”They don’t listen to us, they don’t take our stories seriously, and it’s really disheartening,” she said. “I expected Ashland to be a very safe place where nothing like this would happen to me.”
Touma shared her own personal story of trauma and the on-campus aftermath with 19 News.
“It was really awful, and it was really dehumanizing. Because of that, I didn’t tell many people, and I really regret that. If I could go back in time, I would tell people. When survivor stories aren’t out there, people feel so alone. I was so isolated. I didn’t know anyone else who had gone through it,” she said.
Both she and Britt vowed to keep using their voices to empower survivors, even if they’re doing so alone.
“How good is a university when it has its students trying to do what it should have been doing in the first place by protecting survivors and making them feel heard?” Britt concluded.