Occasionally, The ConnCollegeLive Experience will invite guests to blog about their experiences as a Camel. Today, Bettina Weiss '15 contributes to the guest blogger series.
On Oct. 29, Connecticut College students participated in a National Day of Action inspired by the art and activism of Emma Sulkowicz, a student at Columbia University. Sulkowicz has been carrying a 50-pound mattress wherever she goes on campus for her senior art thesis. The New York Times calls Sulkowicz’ project “an artwork of last resort.”
In 2012, Sulkowicz filed a complaint with Columbia after an alleged sexual assault. Her complaint led to a hearing before a panel that found the alleged perpetrator not responsible. This decision was upheld upon appeal. Sulkowicz brought her case to the police but decided not to follow through after the report. She began carrying her mattress around campus to protest the fact that her alleged attacker was allowed to remain enrolled at the university.
In response to Sulkowicz’ project, the coalition “Carrying the Weight Together” was formed by students and activists who are working to support survivors of sexual and domestic violence. It is made up of members from No Red Tape, Carrying the Weight Together at Columbia University, Hollaback! and Rhize.
When students at Connecticut College heard about the National Day of Action to support Sulkowicz, we sprung into action. Sal Bigay '16, the Student Government Association (SGA) chair of residential affairs, brought the idea to our SGA and began planning with the Public Art Task Force subcommittee. Members of SafetyNet, a peer education group within the Think S.A.F.E. (Sexual Assault Free Environment) office were brainstorming ideas on how to bring the movement to our campus. At the same time, the sophomore seminar class “Art of Protest: Occupy ___” was also inspired to bring the movement to campus. In a phenomenally successful collaboration, all three groups came together to organize our College's participation in the day of action. Representatives from each group met, and off we went. “This is how things need to happen at Connecticut College: authentically and passionately,” said Bigay.
More than 130 colleges and universities all across the country stood in solidarity with Sulkowicz on the National Day of Action. On our campus, a mattress with hundreds of signatures traveled through Cummings, Fanning, New London Hall, Palmer, Coffee Grounds and Harris throughout the day. On one side of the mattress, students signed a pledge saying, “I support survivors of sexual and domestic violence and am helping to #carrythatweight.” On the other, we emphasized that Connecticut College is standing in solidarity to end assault on college campuses, with “#conncollcarries.” The pledge side of the mattress was so full of signatures that students filled the other side of the mattress, as well. Ramzi Kaiss '17 from the sophomore seminar organized a meeting at common hour — a time when no classes are in session — for students to sign the mattress and take pictures with it, in addition to carrying the mattress throughout the day.
Connecticut College has been proactive in sexual assault prevention efforts and education. SafetyNet works with Director of Sexual Violence Prevention and Advocacy Darcie Folsom year-round to promote bystander intervention and other prevention efforts. Because we have such an extensive program, we feel even more responsible for promoting safety and demanding responsibility from administrations on other campuses. “Not all college students are as fortunate as we are. Because of that, we stand with them today and carry their weight by carrying this mattress around,” said Kaiss.
Eva Murray '17 is also in the sophomore research seminar and carried the mattress to class. “I wasn't ever questioned on why this was an important issue. The kind of responses I got were, 'Yeah! I'll sign it!' or, 'Do you need help carrying it?' or, 'Thanks for what you're doing!' People were talking about it all day. I think people are proud of what happened today,” she said.
As an intern in Folsom’s office, along with Juliette Verrengia '16 and Cecily Cushman '15, I knew that participating in and facilitating this event was a no-brainer. I am so thrilled by the way our campus reacted to this movement and feel very proud to be a Camel. The outside support and recognition on social media has been phenomenal, and I am glad that so many schools joined together to stand by Sulkowicz and other survivors. Having the experience of carrying the mattress was difficult but inspiring.
“Carrying the mattress around today has been an unbelievably humbling experience. The mattress has no handles on it, so it is nearly impossible to be carried by one person,” said Kaiss. “You really need someone else to help carry the weight with you and that's what this protest stands for. We want to carry the weight with all survivors of sexual violence who are calling to change the unjust policies of their respective colleges."
The response on campus was so overwhelmingly positive, that it took off on social media, as well. “I could not be happier with the response we received from the community, but I can honestly say that I'm not surprised,” said Bigay. “Voices need to be heard, and it is so comforting to know that they are loud and clear at Connecticut College."
Bettina Weiss '15 is an American studies major and is active on campus as an intern in the Think S.A.F.E. (Sexual Assault Free Environment) Office.