OREM — For two decades, a yearly display of colorful T-shirts in Orem has honored survivors and victims of sexual and relationship violence from within Utah Valley.
That changed this week when the exhibit added a shirt in memory of someone from outside the community.
Lauren McCluskey, the 21-year-old University of Utah student-athlete shot and killed on her campus by a man she had briefly dated, was memorialized with a T-shirt containing a red block "U," referring to her school. The shirt's white background signified she had not survived the Oct. 22 attack. Placed at the entrance, it was the first thing many saw as they approached the display at Utah Valley University.
The death of McCluskey, a member of the university's track team who was considering a career in public relations, has drawn attention to sexual and relationship violence in Utah, organizers of the project said Wednesday.
"I think people know it's not unique to the U. It's something that could happen on any campus," said Summer Valente, director of UVU's Center for Social Impact. She noted that more people than usual walked into a ballroom at the school to take in the exhibit Tuesday.
On Wednesday, the second and final day of the project, college students and others wandered through rows of T-shirts in bright pink, gray, dark blue and other colors, each color signifying the type of abuse. About three dozen shirts were added over the two days after visitors wrote and drew on them behind a black curtain in the ballroom. Since its first year in 1998, more than 1,800 shirts decorated by survivors and loved ones of those who died have been showcased in the local iteration of the national Clothesline Project.
Some were painted with messages of anger or forgiveness toward abusers, and others were adorned with jewels and drawings of a broken heart. Several overlapped as they hung on the clothesline and resembled an ever-expanding quilt.
One shirt read, "You raping me doesn't define me." Another said, "88 days later: I still can't sleep. I still can't eat," while one more emphasized that "NO means NO."
Some visitors attended on their own, wearing backpacks and Halloween costumes, and others came in pairs. The sounds of a gong, bell and whistle sounded intermittently from a speaker, indicating the prevalence of assaults, rapes and deadly relationship violence.
This happens to our family, our friends right here in Utah. This is a serious problem.
A Provo couple who attended the exhibit wiped tears from their eyes as they recounted that their daughter was abused by their son. Along with therapy, yearly visits to the display at UVU are part of their healing process, they said.
"I think it just reminds you that you can't be numb to things. You need to have your eyes and ears open," said the woman. She asked that her name be withheld to protect the identity of her daughter, who has a family of her own now and couldn't attend with her parents Wednesday afternoon.
The couple said they are dismayed by McCluskey's death, noting she had reported to police that she was scared of the man who killed her.
"It's frightening to see that people aren't listening," said the mother. University of Utah police have said McCluskey made reports but didn't indicate that she feared Melvin Rowland would harm her physically.
"That's just so heartbreaking and so frustrating," said Danielle Hardy, a member of the center's student-led Service Council who proposed adding the McCluskey shirt. "Does she need to say, 'I am scared for my life?' Is that the point that we protect people?"
Hardy, who also attended the U. for a year, lived in the dorms and had night classes like the one McCluskey was returning from when she was killed.
"This is a girl who is on top of life, who is trying to get an education, just like everyone here at UVU," Hardy said of the slain student. But even after McCluskey's death, many on Hardy's own campus don't believe sexual and relationship violence happen in Utah, she said.
"People will say, 'Where are the shirts from?' And I'm like, 'Oh, they're made here.' And they're like, 'Yeah but where are the stories from?'" Hardy said. "This happens to our family, our friends right here in Utah. This is a serious problem."
Domestic violence resources
- Utah Domestic Violence Coalition operates a confidential statewide, 24-hour domestic abuse hotline at 1-800-897-LINK (5465). Resources are also available online: udvc.org.
Help for people in abusive relationships can be found by contacting:
Leilani Fallentine, a junior and public relations major at UVU, was one of several volunteers at the display who held a box of tissues to offer visitors who became emotional. She said she believes more lessons in schools on healthy boundaries and reproductive anatomy could help more survivors feel comfortable disclosing abuse from a young age and through the rest of their lives.
"You never know who has that battle wound inside of them," she said. "There's no forgetting about it. It's a part of them and it's something so big."
Free and confidential help and support for victims and survivors of domestic violence is available 24/7 at 1-800-897-LINK (5465) or visiting udvc.org.