The Center for Family Justice has partnered with the National Association of VOCA Assistance Administrators (NAVAA) for Sexual Assault Awareness Month and National Crimes Victims’ Rights Week (NCVRW) to host the traveling exhibit, “Art for Advocacy.” 

The event is planned to take place at Fairfield University, Sacred Heart University, Housatonic Community College and the University of Bridgeport this coming April. 

Fairfield students, faculty and staff are now able to submit artwork for the Center for Family Justice’s public exhibit, which will promote public awareness of the support and resources offered to victims of sexual assault and other forms of crime, both on and off-campus. 

According to Salaha Kabir, Fairfield University’s sexual violence and campus advocate, the exhibit will be displayed in the Dogwood Room located in the Barone Campus Center on April 4 and 5. 

Geanella Suarez, Fairfield University’s bilingual sexual violence and campus advocate, first sent an email out to Fairfield students on March 9, which contained information on two of the main displays, “What Were You Wearing?” and “Survivors + Art Gallery,” as well as instructions detailing how to submit artwork. 

In accordance with Suarez’s email, the display, “What Were You Wearing,” is centered around showcasing the varying types of clothing that victims were wearing when they were secxually assaulted, all based on real “survivor descriptions.” 

The purpose of this exhibit, according to Suarez, is to eradicate the “victim-blaming myth” that clothing can somehow “invite” one’s sexual assault. 

The second display, “Survivor + Allies Gallery,” welcomes survivors and allies to submit art that is inspired by the NCVRW theme of rights, access and equity for all victims. Artists have the choice to further incorporate the NCVRW theme colors of blue, green and orange into their artwork, according to Suarez’s email, or submit creative writing like poetry. 

When reflecting on her and Suarez’s roles as campus advocates, Kabir stated, “We want them [students] to be active. We want them to be the leaders on campus while we’re just a support for them.” She further shared that they are always contemplating how they can do just that.

The two were first inspired to create and apply for a grant to host the public exhibit, “Art for Advocacy,” after seeing the rewarding outcome that bringing the “My Red Lips” campaign to Fairfield had. Kabir shared that over 300 affirmations and red lip cut outs were placed on their mirror, which traveled with them to all four college campuses. 

This event led to the answer of their previous question: how can the University get students more engaged? The two realized that tabling on college campuses and putting up posters was not as beneficial in raising awareness and support as actual, physical events like this one. 

“Art for Advocacy” was the best thing because everybody has some creative talent to them,” said Kabir. 

“Whether you think you’re an artist or not, there’s something you can do to put into our exhibit.”

Kabir continued to speak of the purpose and hopes of the public exhibit that will be traveling to the four college campuses this April. 

“This space is for students and for any members of the community, to use as a blank canvas to express themselves, bring in the issues and the language and representation of identities, cultures and communities that are invisible, that need more awareness of conversations that we need to have but are not having,” said Kabir. 

Beth Fitzpatrick, community relations coordinator at the Center for Family Justice, shared a statement made by Debra Greenwood, president and chief executive officer for the Center for Family Justice.

“As we know, one out of five women and one out of 14 men have experienced sexual abuse as children. Unfortunately, we know that means there are survivors on our college campuses,” said Greenwood, according to Fitzpatrick. 

“Getting out the message that we are there to support them through our Campus Advocacy Team is so important. This inspiring project helps us spread that message that we are there to offer victims and survivors our free, confidential services,” said Greenwood according to Fitzpatrick.

In addition to the two art displays, Suarez stated that there will also be a panel and resource fair, highlighting SAAM and other forms of violence including but not limited to human trafficking, police brutality and hate crimes. 

“This is not an exhibit just for survivors and victims, this is for allies as well,” said Suarez. 

“One of the portions of our exhibit is to take a stance against violence. You don’t have to have been going through any form of crime to be able to come here and feel welcome,” she said. 

Kabir acknowledged how participation for this exhibit may be triggering to some, especially victims. She continued to offer some advice for such individuals.

“Think of your submission as a point of healing, as a point of connection, as a point of building communities and allies through your artwork,” she said.

“Remember, just think of the positives of the submission that you present for us.”

Kabir further shared that April 26th is the “biggest day” for the public to attend the exhibit at Housatonic Community College, as not only will all four universities be in attendance to rally support for victims, but three panelists will also join to give their remarks.  

Students, faculty, peers and other members of the Fairfield community can still register for the exhibit through the registration form shared within Suarez’s email. 

This project was supported by a National Crime Victims’ Rights Week Community Awareness Project subgrant awarded by the National Association of VOCA Assistance Administrators under cooperative agreement with the Office for Victims of Crime, Office of Justice Programs, and U.S. Department of Justice.

“Whatever comes through and hits you mentally, physically, emotionally,” said Kabir, “just remember this is a traveling exhibit, an interactive exhibit.”

“This is your space to bring your voice and your presence there and anything you say and submit is anonymous.”

All students, faculty, staff, parents and friends are encouraged to attend this exhibit on April 4 and 5 at Fairfield University to rally support for struggling victims within our community. 

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