Told to Smile
Rushing through Western’s Libraries Gallery, students may not realize they are passing an inspiring graphic narrative of an Honors Senior Project called “Smile.”
Julia White, a graphic design graduate student, contributes her 12-page graphic novel about sexual oppression based on real experiences of women at Western. The art exhibit, “Smile,” is displaying from June 5 to July 29.
On one side of the gallery, the graphic piece hanging up on the wall describes six stories of women being sexual assaulted in different cases.
“I was inspired to create this because these are experiences that I’ve had all my life,” White said. “Every woman that I know has these experiences. A lot of people don’t realize it.”
“I identify as a woman, and I support women. I feel strongly about that we need to stick together and support each other because we don’t always feel safe. And it’s good to have a community among us.”
“I’ve been sexual harrassed,” Tesse Millsap said, a senior majoring in psychology. It is personal to reveal details but she was only 14-years-old at the time, she said.
A stranger in his 40s started annoying her when they were at a store. Millsap didn’t know what to do, so she decided to keep silent. Luckily, a woman saw it. The woman called him out and yelled at him.
“I’m grateful for people who say things and try to stop it,” Millsap said.
“I identify as a woman, and I support women,” she said. “I feel strongly about that we need to stick together and support each other because we don’t always feel safe. And it’s good to have a community among us.”
White invited people to contribute their stories about sexual violence, harassment, oppression and discrimination by an online anonymous survey. The survey was distributed through the Department of Design at Western and on Facebook.
This is White’s first time doing a long graphic novel. She began the project in the fall of 2015 and used both hand-drawing and digital devices to produce the final work. The characters are mostly made up, but the content is based on the survey.
“I edited it just a little bit for the clarity, and just for the narrative flows a bit. But all real women and all real experience are from the Western community,” White said. “I am hoping that just by creating totally new characters for the stories, they [audience] will see it more universal.”
Everything is different now compared to past decades.
“Things are changing,” said Filip Jagodzinski, a professor in computer science. “When those things occurred, they were put on the backburner. There was silence and people didn’t want to talk about. But now it’s improved. It’s not that it’s perfect or ideal now, but it’s better that it was. But obviously still a long way to go.”
People experiencing sexual oppression are not isolated, White said. Getting the message out contributes to the larger fight against sexual harassment.
People don’t understand how little things can contribute to the overall rape culture, White said.
White hopes the art exhibit will be a starting point for people to talk about the issue more on the Western’s campus and beyond the community. The Honored Program has helped her to find national publications to submit the piece and spread the message. The Scribendi has approved her work to be submitted to their magazine.