The #MeToo Movement reinforced the ongoing plight of women’s rights. Now, Western Connecticut State University (WCSU) is hosting “It’s On Us” at The Gallery, a unique art exhibit to raise awareness of sexual assault during April, Sexual Assault Awareness Month. The event is being held April 22 from 6 to 10 p.m. in the Campus Center Ballroom on the university’s Westside campus. The exhibit is free and open to the public.

“Sexual assault is difficult to discuss, so I wanted to create a powerful walk-through for people to see how prevalent the issue is and how it truly impacts survivors — a space where people could come together to discuss the issue and educate those on campus,” said senior Leah Harger, president of the It’s On Us WCSU chapter, and organizer of the event. “My objective is for this exhibit to deeply move people and give them ideas of how they can get involved in the movement. I want to showcase some of the experiences people have had and how their lives have changed through these traumatic events.”
The event will be visual and interactive, ranging from artwork and poetry to photography and music contributed by club members and other students. It will also include sexual assault and domestic violence statistics. “Art and writing tends to be a healing and processing tool for people who’ve experienced traumatic events, such as sexual assault. I was inspired to organize the gallery because I wanted to highlight art or writing that survivors may have created to help themselves heal,” said Harger.
One of the artists, freshman Samantha Cross, of Watertown, is exhibiting poems that recount her personal story and that of others, in addition to documentary poetry. “Documentary poetry is when a poet uses articles or other outside sources and information in a poem,” said Cross whose project, “Our Cultured 17.6%,” is a manipulation of articles, stories, and statistics of sexual assault and rape in America. Her poetry incorporates well-known cases, such as Dr. Ford vs. Brett Kavanaugh and Kesha vs. Dr. Luke. She said that Kesha and Dr. Christine Blasey Ford showed her “what bravery looks like” and was the inspiration for her piece.

“I can spread more awareness, talk with other survivors, and open up more dialogue about this monumental problem of sexual assault and rape culture in America. I hope people realize there’s so much a victim has to go through after a sexual assault. I want people to see how big a problem it is and how hurtful the stigmas can be to a victim’s psyche.”
When Cross needed a welcoming place, she joined It’s On Us, a chapter of the national organization initiated by Barack Obama and Joe Biden to combat sexual assault and sexual violence on college campuses.
“It’s On Us works to educate the university community on different facts, statistics, and myths surrounding sexual violence and victim-blaming language and behaviors to hopefully change the culture of our campus one event, meeting, or conversation at a time,” explained Harger.
Another artist, junior Bhadrangi Soni, 20, of Danbury, is exhibiting oil and acrylic paintings featuring South Asian survivors of sexual assault accompanied by each victim’s story. “I incorporate their story into the emotions of the painting. The juxtaposition of the women’s facial expressions and the beautiful jewelry and clothing illustrates the truth of our society. Within the South Asian culture, there’s a heavy emphasis put on women’s appearance and her persona,” Soni said. “I’m very grateful to be part of this exhibit. I’d like for people to read these stories and understand the way our society has treated sexual assault victims and survivors. If someone who has been sexually assaulted reads these stories I hope they know they’re not alone and we must all come together to help support survivors.”

According to Sydney Trezza, director of Campus Counseling and Advocacy for the Women’s Center of Greater Danbury, it’s critical to raise awareness about sexual assault.
“There are still people in our communities who aren’t aware of the prevalence of sexual assault on campuses,” said Trezza, praising It’s On Us for educating the community.
“By continuing to raise awareness on college campuses, we can combat victim-blaming language and challenge negative behaviors. It’s really meaningful for students to see their peers raising awareness and taking a stand against an issue that’s so prevalent on college campuses all over the country,” Trezza said. “Sometimes, it takes courage to speak out against sexual assault, and to see the students in this club dedicating their time and energy to finding ways they can take do that is very inspiring to me as the adviser and reminds me why this work is so important.”
For more information about the exhibit, email Leah Harger at harger005@connect.wcsu.edu or Sydney Trezza at Trezzas@wcsu.edu.