Carry That Weight demands action on sexual assault

Sophomore+Annie+Want+with+a+mattress+in+Prentiss+Dining+Hall.+Photo+by+Marra+Clay.+
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Carry That Weight demands action on sexual assault

Sophomore Annie Want with a mattress in Prentiss Dining Hall. Photo by Marra Clay.

Sophomore Annie Want with a mattress in Prentiss Dining Hall. Photo by Marra Clay.

Sophomore Annie Want with a mattress in Prentiss Dining Hall. Photo by Marra Clay.

Sophomore Annie Want with a mattress in Prentiss Dining Hall. Photo by Marra Clay.

Lachlan Johnson

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Activists from Feminists Advocating Change and Empowerment (FACE) carried a dorm mattress around Whitman’s campus as part of the Carry That Weight national day of action on Wednesday, Oct. 29. They joined students at over 130 colleges calling attention to campus sexual assault and pressing for changes in the campus culture and policies surrounding it.

The Carry That Weight day of action was inspired by the performance art of Emma Sulkowicz, a senior at Columbia University who was assaulted while at college. After Columbia mishandled her reported case, Sulkowicz committed to carrying her dorm mattress around campus until the student who assaulted her leaves Columbia. The burden of carrying the mattress on which she was assaulted is intended to represent the burden carried by all survivors of sexual assault.

“I think there’s something really powerful about carrying something that is so cumbersome. It takes up a lot of space and people kind of have to pay attention to it. I think symbolically that’s really powerful to represent something like sexual assault which is usually stigmatized and pushed into the shadows,” said sophomore Tara McCulloch, co-president of FACE, who organized the day of action with her fellow co-President senior Erica Nkwocha.

Initially, organizers asked students unable to carry a mattress to carry pillows instead. However, three days before the day of action, Sulkowicz released a statement requesting students not carry pillows, as the ease of carrying pillows failed to represent the burden of sexual assault and detracted from the seriousness of the protest.

“It doesn’t quite represent the weight that you’re carrying when you’ve been sexually assault like a mattress does. Once people were planning on caring a pillow and then read this … then they were confused about what to do and what not to do,” said Nkwocha. “I think people who were concerned about that probably weren’t the people who were going to make a joke out of it in the first place, but I think everyone felt it was important to respect what Emma wanted.”

As an alternative to carrying pillows, McCulloch and Nkwocha suggested participants tape a red X somewhere on their bodies. However, the change still caught some students off guard.

Activists hoped the day of action would both raise awareness of the burden of sexual assault and how this can be perpetuated by rape culture on campus. They encourage greater awareness of casual use of words such as “rape” and media which normalizes violence against women.
“Whitman needs to realize that no one thinks that this is a place that sexual assault doesn’t happen, so the best thing they could do would be to acknowledge that it happens here, as it happens everywhere, and take it seriously and start expelling people for rape,” said Nkwocha.

Associate Dean of Students and Title IX Coordinator Juli Dunn has not yet been contacted with any formal requests to change sexual assault policies, but has said she would welcome dialogue with students. However, meeting changing federal requirements for sexual assault and Title IX policies will continue to be a priority for the college.

“Our policies are … subject to legal mandates, and keeping up with those changes [has] kept us chasing, to some extent, what feels like a constantly moving target; just because students want a change, does not necessarily mean we can legally make such a change,” said Dunn.

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Correction: A caption for a photo of Zoey Kapuzinski was mistakenly attached to a photo of Angela Tang. The caption has been edited to name the correct person.

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