This year’s “Denim Day,” an event meant to educate the public and provide support for sexual assault survivors, was held today at the University Religious Center, an indoor venue that its organizers saw as an unwelcome compromise.
The event, hosted by the USC Survivor Support Community and Student Assembly for Gender Empowerment, gave students the chance to create an art installation, using squares of denim material painted by students and survivors in honor of Denim Day.
But as of today, their artwork is yet to have a home.
The installation spells out “1 out of 3,” a statement referring to the amount of undergraduate female students who have been sexually assaulted during their time at USC.
According to a survey from the Association of American Universities in 2019, the national statistic is one in four, making USC an outlier.
“Denim Day is really important because every year it’s a reminder that this is an ongoing and systemic issue that is still happening,” said Kate McQuarrie, the president of the USC SSC and director of Take Back the Night for the USC SAGE.
Denim Day is a campaign organized by the Peace Over Violence nonprofit organization since 1999 in honor of Sexual Violence Awareness Month to spread awareness on sexual violence issues and support people affected by it.
The campaign started in response to a case where the Italian Supreme Court overturned a rape conviction because the victim was wearing “tight jeans,” and the justices stated she must have helped the rapist remove them, which implies consent. The following day, women in the Italian Parliament wore jeans to work to show their support of the victim.
For the past 24 years, wearing jeans on Denim Day has become a symbol of protest.
In 2016 USC became the first college to join Peace Over Violence in Denim Day activities.
The USC campus club SSC was founded a little over a year ago, following the sexual assault allegations at a USC fraternity.
SSC originally asked the university for an outdoor space, hoping that the event would be easily accessible and visible to the public. Though some programming was held at the USC Village lawn, SSC was not provided with an outdoor space nor with a place to display their installation.
“Having them [the university] deny this artwork is really embarrassing,” said Olivia Efird, a health promotion and disease prevention sophomore. “I think that they could be doing so much more to support survivors and prevent sexual violence on campuses.”
Efird, who works as an intern for SAGE’s Take Back the Night, said that the decision by the university is baffling.
“Having a piece of artwork is not a big deal, it’s not going to take up so much space, and it’s doing the work that USC is not doing itself,” Efird said.
Annenberg Media obtained a statement from the university explaining why the art exhibit was not permitted.
“Event spaces for the Festival of Books were reserved until the end of the day on Wednesday to allow enough time to finish breaking down and removing tents,” said Adam Rosen, associate vice president for culture relations and university events.
“They finished early in the space that the clubs requested but that couldn’t be predicted ahead of time,” Rosen said. “Other event space was provided.”
That was not sufficient for some student organizers. The university informed the SSC about the reasoning behind their decision, but the organizers felt that it was unreasonable. They pointed out that other events were still taking place.
“The Farmers Market is happening today, so I’m very angry with USC for that,” McQuarrie said.
Organizers of the event said the only thing they wanted was an outdoor public space to provide support to a vulnerable community.
“I’m not surprised at all that it was so hard for them to try to secure a space for this event,” said Yi-Ann Li, the founder of SSC and psychology and English literature junior student. “It’s very out-of-touch for the administration to not consider how much work goes into planning an event like this, how much emotional effort, emotional dedication and how much physical effort it takes to carry it out, especially for such an important topic.”
Some students said that because of the recent survey results, USC should be providing more support.
“We realized there are a lot of people on campus who most likely desperately needed a space to be able to not feel so alone,” Li said.
And given the statistics for Trojans, McQuarrie said she thinks “USC is one of the places that needs this the most.”