Carry That Weight event supports assault survivors

Students carry a mattress in support of survivors of sexual assault. Photo courtesy of Susmita Paul
Students carry a mattress in support of survivors of sexual assault. Photo courtesy of Susmita Paul

On the evening of Wednesday, Oct. 29, students walked across campus carrying mattresses to participate in Carry That Weight, a nationwide event organized to “support survivors of sexual and domestic violence,” according to its website.

The event was part of a national movement which grew out of a performance art piece by Columbia senior Emma Sulkowicz. Sulkowicz was sexually assaulted at the beginning of her sophomore year and reported the crime to University authorities, who subjected her to a hearing and ultimately declared her alleged rapist not guilty.

At the end of the last academic year, Sulkowicz started carrying her mattress with her to class, stating that she would continue to do so until the student who assaulted her was expelled. The student in question is still allowed to attend Columbia, and Sulkowicz’s story has garnered national attention. Other Columbia students have joined her by helping to carry the mattress throughout campus. This national event was organized in order to bring attention to the urgency of reducing rates of sexual assault on college campuses and to connect colleges across the nation in combatting the prevalence of sexual assault on campuses.

“The Women’s Collective decided to encourage Williams students to participate in this Day of Action,” Isabel Abraham-Raveson ’15 said. “We wanted to have some kind of culminating event at the end of the day, so that all separate individuals participating with their own mattresses or support of any kind could come together in each other’s physical presence.

Abraham-Raveson estimates that about 40 or 50 students attended the walk that began at Chapin and passed the President’s house and Hopkins Hall and went through New Sawyer Library and Paresky. Students wrote messages of support and of their feelings on a sheet that will be displayed in Parkesy this week.

Meg Bossong ’05, director of sexual assault prevention and response at the College, sees the Carry That Weight event as a step forward in connecting college campuses for positive change. “Activism by current students and recent graduates has transformed the national dialogue on sexual violence on campuses over the last three years, and a huge part of that has been forging connections across campuses,” Bossong said. “It’s what finally allows us to see that the problem of sexual violence and its handling is not anomalous on particular campuses, but really a broad, systemic issue.”

Bossong says it is important to remember that the broader national culture contributes to these issues. According to Bossong, “Every college, Williams included, has to grapple with the particularities of campus culture and how, as a community, we’ll take on prevention, response and accountability, but it would be a mistake for that effort to be silo-ed on individual campuses and not call for broader changes at all levels.”

Bossong urges students to think about the next step in fighting sexual assault at the College. “The question is, ‘What do I do next?’ ‘What are we doing after we set the mattress down at the person’s next destination to make sure that those burdens are both as light as possible and that we don’t have more and more people carrying them around?’”

Bossong says that any event that positively increases awareness has its benefits. “There are many access points into this issue, and because preventing sexual violence is something everyone needs to be on board with, I’d invite people in through any of them,” Bossong said.

“I think the event was succesful in demonstrating support for and allyship with survivors, but we also need more events for survivors themselves, like Take Back the Night. Also, some students felt that not enough of the Williams campus participated or bothered to ask what the mattresses symbolized. The Women’s Collective was happy with the turnout, but this is only the first step towards fundamentally changing the culture around sexual assault on this campus and beyond,” Abraham-Raveson said.