Students joined together to carry a mattress across Knox College campus in support of sexual assault survivors this Wednesday, Oct. 29 as a part of the National Day of Action for the “Carrying the Weight Together Campaign.”
“Carrying the Weight Together” is a campaign organized by students at Columbia University and inspired by the art of Emma Sulkowicz, a Columbia student and sexual assault survivor. In 2013, administration at Columbia College rejected Sulkowicz’s claim that a male student had sexually assaulted her. Sulkowicz responded with a performance art piece entitled “Mattress Performance: Carry That Weight,” which consists of Sulkowicz carrying a dorm mattress with her on campus everywhere that she goes until her rapist no longer attends Columbia.
Among the students demonstrating in support of Sulkowicz and other survivors was senior Allie Fry, cofounder of Knox College’s Sexual Assault Resource Reform Coalition.
“By carrying her mattress, a weight which represents the weight of being a victim or survivor of sexual violence, she is bringing that trauma into the open, confronting the stigma of being a survivor and engaging her community in confronting rape culture,” Fry said.
Fry, who opted to carry a pillow in place of the mattress, noted the relevancy that this campaign has for the Knox community.
“Knox is in no way exceptional. Sexual assault happens on this campus. Abuses by administrators and campus safety officers happen on every campus, including this one,” Fry said. She added that “just like Emma Sulkowicz, there are students on this campus who have dared to speak out about the violations of our rights and confront campus rape culture.”
Knox’s participation in this day of action comes amid the investigation of the college by the Office of Civil Rights for violation of Title IX, legislation meant to protect students from discrimination in any programs or activities that receive federal financial assistance, including sexual harassment. The investigation has been ongoing since January and was prompted by alleged sex discrimination in response to a student’s report of sexual misconduct.
The demonstration at Knox was one of over 70 of its kind, with others taking place at universities, high schools and organizations nationwide, and some in Canada and the United Kingdom. However, Allie Rickard, Columbia University student and cofounder of the campaign and Day of Action, sees this as just the beginning of sexual activism efforts.
“Change will take much more work as we must turn toward our own communities and work with one another to find ways to support survivors and dismantle rape culture and turn toward our institutions to hold them accountable to do the same,” Rickard said.
Rickard wasn’t acquainted with Sulkowicz personally, but when she heard about her performance art piece last term, she felt compelled to act.
“I wanted to show my support for her and other survivors in our community as a fellow artist and classmate, and thought her piece offered an amazing way to do just that,” she explained.
Up until Wednesday, a team of student organizers at Columbia had been busy reaching out to student groups around the nation, inviting them to participate in the Day of Action.
“Showing our support and solidarity is incredibly meaningful as we must work together to create communities and a culture in which survivors are supported,” Rickard said.
“Carrying the Weight Together” has teamed up with other organizations and grassroots efforts in order to reach out to the global community. Since its beginnings, the campaign has been working with “Hollaback,” an international movement which seeks to end street harassment and “Rhize,” a global network that supports people-powered democracy.