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Students Participate In 'Carry The Weight Together' Campaign

Madison Poulter |
October 30, 2014 | 9:34 p.m. PDT

Staff Reporter

The night of Aug. 27, 2012 will never be erased from Emma Sulkowicz’s memory. On that night, she was raped. Two years later, little has been done to address her violation. Her attacker has not faced repercussions for his actions and roams their college campus freely. 

Sulkowicz, a senior majoring in visual arts at Columbia University, is carrying a mattress around campus in an attempt to vocalize her story and the stories of countless victims of sexual assault. By hauling the mattress on her back everywhere on campus, she carries the crime around figuratively and literally. The mattress is the location of both a physical trauma and a psychological burden.  

On Oct. 29, college students across the country carried matresses across their respective campuses. Inspired by seeing people help Sulkowicz transport her mattress across Columbia, Barnard College student Allie Rickard started the Carry the Weight Together Campaign. The campaign aims to support those who have been victims of sexual abuse and assault. 

On Tuesday afternoon, members of the Women’s Student Assembly (WSA) surrounded Tommy Trojan while carrying a matress. The students travelled through campus with the mattress to help bring attention to the campaign. Some people also carried pillows as an act of solidarity. Through "carrying the weight," students demonstrated the power of art as a form of protest.  

Students carried mattresses and pillows around campus in solidarity with sexual assault victims. (Photo Courtesy of Paola Casillas)
Students carried mattresses and pillows around campus in solidarity with sexual assault victims. (Photo Courtesy of Paola Casillas)

Some things are ugly and unfortunate, but why should we keep those truths, those transgressions, hidden from light? Why is it that instances of rape, sexual assault and abuse are excused, the attacker allowed to go on without any consequences? Are we as a society responsible for creating a culture where these acts are permitted? Sulkowicz's story raises these questions and more.  

Her project demonstrates the power of art as a social tool in forcing people to acknowledge and think critically about societal issues. The students who participated in Tuesday's demonstration showed the USC community that we are all responsible for carrying the weight. Activism is a key factor in any social justice movement. The visual impact of seeing a mattress is jarring, stopping people and forcing them to think.  

Victims of sexual assault did not choose to be violated; why should we have the option to choose to address the issue? We have an obligation to address the issue, even if it is complicated, tricky and not clear-cut.  

Last month the Roosevelt Institute and Trojans for Consent sponsored a panel discussion about sexual assault on campus. While conversations are extremely important, and a great step towards addressing a problem, they typically engage people who already want to discuss an issue. Not everyone is going to join in the conversation, certainly not people who do not see that there is a problem.   

Too often these discussions turn into victim blaming. We have all heard the questions “Well, what was she wearing? Was she drunk? Had she slept with him before?”. How can we change this dialogue? While holding conversations is an excellent start at raising awareness and implementing change, sometimes things need to be taken a step further.

Art as a form of social protest holds a mirror up to society. Citizens are forced to look at the underbelly of college, of sex, and of relationships. The people who have committed sexual crimes must come face-to-face with their crime. The mattress is a reminder of the burden that they caused. More than that, the burden becomes all of our burdens. When we see that mattress, we recognize a societal problem. People cannot claim innocence to what they have seen.  

Reach Staff Reporter Madison Poulter here



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