If you are a student or faculty at Purdue University, you have received an email from the Purdue Timely Warning system. The Jeanne Clery Disclosure of Campus Security Policy and Campus Crime Statistics Act requires all universities and colleges that receive federal financial aid to keep campus crime statistics and security information and make them available to the public. While I believe this statute to have a positive impact on transparency and prevalence of instances of rape and sexual assault, the way Purdue University executes these is not helpful. Is it to draw attention to the crimes? Is it to tell students to avoid the areas where these crimes occurred? Often these emails are delivered nearly 24 hours after the assault happened as victims do not typically go to the police immediately.
The most egregious aspect of these emails are the prevention tips that come at the bottom of every email. These tips often were specific to victims of these crimes, and many of them make absolutely no sense such as the statement, “define your sexual limits and practice being assertive about your boundaries,” as if the perpetrator of these kinds of crimes cares about your boundaries. As if there was merely some misunderstanding between the predator and the victim. This is gross. Since when are rapists willing to listen to your limits? That’s what makes them rapists. These emails do nothing to help stop the toxic culture that created this problem in the first place and rely on the same old tired argument that if only victims were more vigilant they would not have been targeted. While one could give Purdue the benefit of the doubt in guessing that the emails are sent by a bot who was given outdated tips years ago, but the formatting and the types of tips on the list change often meaning there is someone out there writing these and sending them.
My frustration with these emails hit a limit around the same time the Guerrilla Girls came to Purdue’s campus in the Fall of 2018. I attended a workshop with two of the members that discussed their early practice, their discussion reminded me of the fearlessness of my youth. It had felt good to post things against permission and it would feel even better if that kind of intervention made even the smallest difference in how the university handled these emails.
After ranting about these emails with my nearly all female Electronic Media course I began grading the emails for how effective I think they were; adding my own thoughts and tips as I went. Under cover of darkness my roommate and I printed and posted 100 of the posters all over campus. Nothing happened. Or at least I thought so.
A few months and 4 sexual assaults later I decided to include this action as a piece in my MFA thesis show. I hung the graded emails in the form of a scroll. Under each email is a video of the location the reported assault took place. I went out at night and walked each block to get a sense of place. Each TV in the installation plays a looped clip of these locations at night. Sometimes these locations are empty while at times I stand in the frame wearing a pink jumpsuit and combat boots to give the viewer context of lighting in the area. You can see how well lit most of these spaces are with a figure in the frame. I included a map of the sexual assault report locations to provide those unfamiliar with campus a visual representation of where these crimes took place: outside the gym, outside Armstrong, outside residence halls, etc.
I invited the purdue community to write their comments on the emails. I began getting comments from gallery-goes about how they had been affected by these posters around campus. To my surprise a lot of them cheered me on stating they had seen them and supported me for saying what they had been yelling at their computer screens for months.
In conjunction with the Purdue Galleries, I gave a sewable electronics workshop to create fabric LED lit versions of the graded emails in the form of banners. Around 10 participants joined me in sewing simple LED light circuits. Though once again the majority of participants were women, two male participants joined. The male participants had no sewing or circuitry skills, but completed the task with direction and assistant from other participants. These banners will be hung outdoors near the locations of these assaults and high traffic areas on campus during graduation weekend when many families will be visiting Purdue. This action is not only to show solidarity for victims but to illustrate that these types of crimes happen everywhere, in well-lit areas, in public spaces, residence halls, places all students have a right to be.