Today@Sam Article

Victim Studies Class Creates Exhibit For Houston Toy Museum

Dec. 20, 2023
SHSU Media Contact: Mikah Boyd


What began as an assignment for Shelly Clevenger’s seminar in victimology course transformed into an exhibit in the Houston Toy Museum. The exhibit showcased how toys and play help people cope with trauma and was displayed in October in recognition of Domestic Violence Awareness Month.

Inspiration for the collaboration came to Clevenger, chair of the Sam Houston State University College of Criminal Justice's (SHSU CJ) Department of Victim Studies, after observing a display on foster children at the museum. She knew that students in her course, which is an Academic Community Engagement (ACE) course, would benefit from working with the museum to create a unique display.

“In the past, I’ve talked about play therapy in my classes,” Clevenger said. “I reached out to the toy museum and asked if they would be open to having a display for information about how toys and play help people cope with trauma.”

Houston Toy Museum Director Sara Broussard says she was thrilled to collaborate with Clevenger and her students.

“Therapy is something we hadn't yet covered in the museum,” she said.

Clevenger had a few requirements for the project, including displaying their research in a visual medium using infographics. She left the toy therapy topic choice open to the students.

“Some chose to talk about children and how children use toys,” Clevenger said. “But what I really loved was that students also referred to adults who cope with trauma. There’s this area of research talking about adults tapping into their inner child to be able to cope with things that happened to them.” DoVS-Exhibit-2.jpg

Students in the class noted how impressed they were with everyone’s findings as well as the toy varieties covered.

“Topics included everything from fidget toys to Barbies,” SHSU CJ graduate student Julia DeWitt said. “I was very proud of the work my peers and I showcased at the museum and so thankful to the museum owners that put all the flyers on display.”

“What impressed me the most about the exhibit is that adults can benefit from stuffed animals to help cope with trauma, improve mental health and ease loneliness,” SHSU CJ graduate student Adriana Mancha-Ramos said. “I really enjoyed this exhibit because it was fun to visit the museum, see toys that I grew up with and learn about play therapy.” 

According to Broussard, feedback from museum patrons on the exhibit was thought-provoking.

“Museum visitors definitely took an interest in the students’ projects,” she said. “It allowed for broader conversation on the topic.”

Clevenger and Broussard are looking forward to more possible collaborations in the future, including making the toy therapy exhibit assignment an annual event at the museum.

“Toys matter,” Clevenger said. “I know that’s not something we would think about, but toys can help people in a real way.”

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