Art exhibit at New Kensington asks viewers to dispel myths about sexual assault

Gallery plans October survivor art installation to bring awareness to sexual assault prevention and advocacy
Clothing from "What Were You Wearing?" exhibit hangs on walls of gallery

Clothing and stories from the "What Were You Wearing?" exhibit hang upon walls of an art gallery. The goal of the installation is to bring awareness to the myth that clothing can cause sexual or violent assaults, as well as bring validation to survivors of assaults. The exhibit comes to the Penn State New Kensington Art Gallery in Oct. 2018.

Credit: What Were You Wearing Exhibit Information

NEW KENSINGTON, Pa. – The upcoming October exhibit in the Penn State New Kensington Art Gallery aims to dispel the myth that sexual assault is the fault of the victim due to what he or she may have been wearing. The “What Were You Wearing?” installation, which has appeared throughout the U.S., will be featured in the gallery throughout October, which is also National Domestic Violence Awareness Month.

Michele Marcks, assistant director of student affairs at the campus, has been planning the exhibit and installation with the help of Penn State New Kensington’s biobehavioral health program faculty and students. In addition to her role, Marcks is also the campus’ Stand for State liaison.

“We’re always thinking about ways that we can better inform our students about sexual assault intervention and things they can do to help make a safe community,” said Marcks.

Stand for State is the University’s bystander intervention program focused on sexual and relationship violence, mental health concerns, acts of bias and risky drinking and drug use. The goal is to create safe campus communities where everyone plays a role in protecting and supporting each other.

The exhibit, created by Jen Brockman of the University of Kansas, and Mary Wyandt-Hiebert, of the University of Arkansas, originated in 2013 at the University of Arkansas after both heard a poem titled, “What I Was Wearing” by Mary Simmerling. Stories, provided by survivors of sexual assault, with their consent, are shared throughout the installation, along with recreations of the clothing worn.

“It’s a really important topic that will help us further engage students within Stand for State and further engage students in getting away from the myth that clothing can cause assaults,” explained Marcks. “The community will also have the chance to come and read the stories and help get rid of the victim-blaming that occurs.”

Marcks hopes that the nature of the exhibit sheds light upon a subject that can be difficult to present.

“It’s going to catch people off guard,” said Marcks. “I think that’s important because it’s an uncomfortable topic, but one we need to talk about if we have any hope in stopping it and further preventing sexual assaults, harassment and domestic violence from happening.”

The New Kensington campus community, as well as the public, is invited to a special exhibit kickoff event at 12:15 p.m. on Oct. 1. The event will feature keynote speaker George Fleming, advocate and facilitator for Men Embracing Non-Violence and Safety (MEN/S), as well representatives from the Alle-Kiski Area HOPE Center and Blackburn Center.

Because of the nature of the exhibit’s focus, information will be provided to viewers in relation to who they can reach out to if they or someone they know is triggered by the content or needs support. Community members can contact the HOPE Center’s crisis hotline at 888-299-4673 or the Blackburn Center at 724-836-1122. At the New Kensington campus, students can contact Kendra Kitko, licensed counselor, as well as access the Penn State Crisis and Counseling Resources Hotline by calling 877-229-6400 or texting “LIONS” to 741741. More information and resources can also be found on the Penn State Victim and Survivor Support and Advocacy website.

The exhibit can be viewed throughout Oct. in the Art Gallery from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. weekdays and noon to 5 p.m. weekends.

Penn State New Kensington’s gallery features monthly multimedia works of local, regional, national and international artists. All exhibits are free to the public. For more information about the gallery and how to become a future exhibitor, contact Tina Sluss, gallery director, at 724-334-6056 or [email protected].  More information can also be viewed at