‘What Were You Wearing’: Sexual assault and clothing

UTSA hosts temporary art installation in honor of Sexual Assault Awareness Month

Trigger warnings: Mention of sexual assault, incest and rape.

In honor of Sexual Assault Awareness Month, the “What Were You Wearing” exhibit is on display through April 21 in the Student Union. The display’s intent is to dispel myths surrounding the role of clothing in sexual assault. The temporary exhibit hosted by the UTSA PEACE center and Wellbeing Services features 11 different outfits worn by survivors along with a short quote or description of their story. 

The Paisano team interviewed students following their viewing of the eye-opening exhibit. Bella Lejeune-Bolivar, a freshman student passing by the display in the Student Union, shared how she interpreted it.

“I think it’s good. It sends a good message to students because a lot of them — especially guys — don’t understand … they always assume, they always ask what girls are wearing whenever they get sexually assaulted or raped, that’s the first question they ask … sexual assault and rape doesn’t look like one thing. It isn’t just like, they were wearing this, they looked like this, it was a girl, it was a guy. Like it’s not stereotypical,” Bolivar said.

Another student passing by, Mauricio Madraso, shared his thoughts on the display after wandering through.

“I just stopped by really quickly, I didn’t know what it was and it’s very heavy, for sure. … I think it’s an important subject that should be discussed more. I guess you could say it is very important to raise awareness of sexual assault. I came in, seeing what it was and it hits you immediately, … it really does send a message effectively,” Madraso said.

Additionally, Madraso shared his beliefs on whether or not clothing plays a role in sexual assault.

Sigma Chi’s Julian Diaz and Aaron Constancio, give their thoughts after viewing the exhibit to share their perspective as members of Greek life. Riley Carroll/The Paisano

“Not at all. I think when you can see that military uniform, I think that the clothing definitely isn’t like a factor as to what caused the sexual assault why the person behind it and their mentality [is] already actively looking for an excuse to commit sexual assault,” Madraso stated.

Sigma Chi’s Julian Diaz and Aaron Constancio, who were tabling outside the Student Union for a philanthropy event, gave their thoughts after viewing the exhibit to share their perspective as members of Greek life.

“I feel like it shows like it doesn’t matter what you’re wearing because … the one in like a military outfit it has a gun and everything and it’s like stuff can still happen. And then it looks like some of these clothes are really small, so it’s like young kids. So it’s just like, basically be aware that it doesn’t matter what people are wearing and that the person trying to do stuff doesn’t necessarily care about them,” Diaz said.

The introduction to the art exhibition touches on the purpose surrounding the display and what they hope to accomplish. Riley Carroll/The Paisano

Constancio brought up his awareness of sexual assault resources on campus and how infrequently he hears about them. 

“Yeah. I think today is like the first day I’ve really seen flyers and stuff talking about sexual assault, but at the same time, like it’s my first semester, so I don’t necessarily know too much about what they do,” he said.

While many students may be unaware of the resources UTSA offers due to the lack of advertising, the university focuses on sexual assault survivor assistance, and there is support available both on and off-campus, online and in-person. Services are accessible through the UTSA PEACE center, available via phone at 210-458-4077 or by email at [email protected]. Help can also be found through the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 1-800-656-4673, and for more specialized care contact the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN).

More information about the “What Were You Wearing” exhibition is available on RowdyLink, and the exhibit will be available to view in the Student Union lobby until April 21  at 5 p.m. The showcase will return in April 2023 in Gallery 23, which is located on the first floor of the UTSA Student Union.

The exhibition was made possible by Danielle Rominski, a Prevention Specialist at the University of Texas at San Antonio. In her interview with The Paisano she shared her inspiration and goals pertaining to the exhibition as well as future plans and resources available here at UTSA. 


Q: What was your inspiration?

A: I was inspired to create the What Were You Wearing? exhibit at UTSA after seeing a similar one at other colleges. Two University of Arkansas faculty were inspired to create the first project after reading the poem, “What I Was Wearing” by Dr. Mary Simmerling. Jen Brockman and Dr. Mary Wyandt-Hiebert created a visual representation of the poem in 2014 by collecting stories from student-survivors at University of Arkansas. All stories collected were anonymous and confidential. Through their inspiration, I wanted to bring What Were You Wearing? to  UTSA.


Q: What do you hope to accomplish with this exhibit?  

A: In support of UTSA’s reaffirmation of a zero-tolerance environment for sexual violence and as campus advocates that support students, faculty and staff who have experienced these issues, The Peace Center wants to bring awareness about sexual assault. We want visitors to understand that it can occur regardless of age, gender, or what a person is wearing. Survivors   are often asked after an assault, “What were you wearing?” which immediately puts the blame on the victim instead of  the perpetrator, where blame should be. This exhibit aims to shatter that myth. 


Q: What does this mean to you?

A: This exhibit means that UTSA takes the issue of sexual assault seriously and I hope that those who visit the exhibit will learn from it. I hope they learn that clothing does not cause sexual assault and that it can happen to anyone. I also hope that the exhibit inspires them to get involved in efforts to raise awareness of  sexual violence. We encourage them to get involved in the PEACE Center or creat their own awareness event on campus.  


Q: What was the process in creating this exhibit? 

A: First, we had to find the appropriate space, then we had to identify stories. We issued a call to students to submit stories anonymously. If anyone would like to share their story for next year, they can do so on the UTSA PEACE Center website: https://www.utsa.edu/peacecenter.  


Q: Future Plans?  

A: UTSA is committed to providing prevention education programs and resources to the campus community all year round. Our future plans include expanding programming for Sexual Assault Awareness Month each April as well as additional critical touchpoints throughout the year.

The What Were You Wearing? exhibit will be in Student Union Gallery 23 for the entire month of April 2023 as part of UTSA’s recognition of Sexual Assault Awareness Month.


Q: What do you want people to take away from this?  

A: An understanding that sexual assault is not caused by the clothes a person is wearing but by power and control and to stop asking the question, “what were you wearing?” when someone discloses that they have experienced sexual violence. Instead a person should ask, “How can I help you?” or say, “I’m sorry this happened to you.” Showing empathy gives back a victim’s power and is much more meaningful than questioning the victim. 


Q: Are there more universities that you have visited so far or plan to visit to showcase it?  

A: UTSA is the only institution where we will be showing it. I hope to expand it to the Downtown Campus in the future.