OU student Katie (she asked reporters not to use her last name) talks about how photography and art helped her heal and express herself after being sexually assaulted. Photo by Conor Morris.

In the Fall of 2019, the public was offered a look into the experiences of 20 survivors of sexual assault, dating violence, stalking, harassment, childhood trauma and domestic violence in the exhibit at Ohio University, “Through the Survivors’ Lens.”

The installation of 52 photographs, depicting the survivors’ experience and how trauma has continued to affect them, was originally displayed in OU’s Trisolini Gallery.

Though the exhibit offered a great space for voices to be heard, according to a news release, it was only temporary.

“Realizing this exhibit brings such insight into the perspectives of survivors was only temporary, and we knew we wanted to find a way to preserve it,” Geneva Murray, director of the Women’s Center, said in the release. “Acknowledging their experiences is a call to action and we wanted this exhibit to call for a change outside of just our Athens community.” 

Originally, Murray teamed up with Pete Shooner, associate director of content in Ohio University Advancement, and Jeff Kuhn, an instructional designer in the Office of Instructional Innovation, to produce a digital archive that could be published in Ohio Women, featuring the narratives in the exhibit.

“Publishing a digital experience of this exhibit in Ohio Women provided an opportunity for more people to see this compelling and thought-provoking gallery, and open up discussion around it not just here on the Athens campus, but on other campuses and the community as a whole,” Shooner said in the release.

Part of this digital archive included a 360-degree video produced by OU’s Game Research and Immersive Design (GRID) Lab that immersed viewers in the actual exhibit, allowing them to see all the photographs and hear the responses and soundscapes that correlated.

Students working on behalf of the GRID Lab were the driving force in recording the virtual experience, the release said. According to Kuhn, the students used creative approaches to capture the essence of the exhibit and help distribute it to a broader audience.

 “The students had to ensure the integrity of the space gets preserved,” he said in the release. “They learned how to use this technology to support this kind of initiative and maintain the spirit of the experience.”

Work to preserve the gallery and make it accessible for online viewing came long before physical distancing during the current COVID-19 pandemic, the release said, yet expands on the importance of digitizing exhibits like this. As events held in April to recognize Sexual Assault Awareness Month transition to online platforms or are canceled altogether, the “Through the Survivor’s Lens” virtual exhibit still offers a way for survivors and the public to hear others’ stories and support each other from a distance. 

The Through the Survivors’ Lens virtual exhibit includes arrow icons on the floor to allow the viewer to move through the gallery space. Blue image icons on the gallery walls are the key to hearing each person’s experience as told through a narrator.

“These stories that have been curated are real people’s lives, not only students, but alumni and others as well, and it’s a great responsibility to give them a platform to tell their story,” Kim Castor, director of the Survivor Advocacy Program, said in the release. “Not every survivor wants to get on stage and tell their story, so giving them an opportunity to come forward in this way and then make it accessible for others is a great way to be proactive and engaging.”

There have been several positive, raw reactions to the digital exhibit from alumni and community members unable to be present in person. Joni Kabana, an OU alumna and photographer in Portland, Oregon, expressed thanks that this exhibit was made available digitally since the topic not only resonates with her but because she submitted content for the exhibit, the release said.

“Since I was traveling during the exhibit, there was no way for me to see (it) in person or to share my story through this impactful exhibit with my friends and family,” Kabana said. “So, it’s really remarkable that OHIO came up with a way that I can view this important, engaging exhibit hundreds of miles away, and even share this conversation through a link to the virtual exhibit.”

In the release, Kabana emphasized how important programming surrounding this topic is, and how OU was truly the place where she began discovering her self-worth after dealing with childhood trauma. She predicted that the value of making exhibits such as this accessible to all will only further help survivors realize their trauma does not define them.

“I’m so proud of OHIO for touching on an uncomfortable topic and finding a way for survivors from all over to share their experiences in one setting,” Kabana said in the release. “It’s inspiring to hear the various stories and I’m honored to be a part of it.”

The physical exhibit at OU was supported by the Women’s Center, Survivor Advocacy Program, Health Promotion, Counseling and Psychological Services, the College of Fine Arts and University Galleries, Office of Instructional Innovation, Ohio University Libraries, Better Bystanders, Ambassadors to the Survivor Advocacy Program, and the Student National Medical Association. 

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