On October 29, I walked from the MAC Quad to Memorial Church in the rain with four other Harvard undergrads while carrying a mattress.
I wasn’t helping a friend move or doing work for Dorm Crew. Rather, I was participating in #CarryThatWeight – the national solidarity day for survivors of sexual assault on campus. The idea of carrying a mattress to show support was inspired by the art and activism of Emma Sulkowicz, a Columbia University student who is carrying a mattress around her campus as a form of protest until the person who raped her is expelled.
Universities across the country participated in this action. At Harvard, students carried a mattress around the Yard in shifts throughout the day. I joined in at 8pm, so it was cold, it was raining, and I wasn’t dressed for the weather--but I didn’t care. I knew that it was worth a half hour of discomfort if it meant that I could be part of something as historic and meaningful as Carry That Weight.
The five of us held up the mattress together, balancing it despite our height disparity. With the other short girls in the group, I stood underneath the mattress, alternating between holding it up with my arms and balancing it on my head. Even with four other people, that mattress was heavy. I’ve changed my share of sheets over the years, but I had never really realized just how much a mattress weighs. By doing this, the weight that Emma Sulkowicz carries – the literal mattress, the metaphorical trauma – was made concrete for me.
Had I been carrying that mattress alone, it would have been depressing, isolating. But walking together, sharing the burden, working in union, lightened the collective physical as well as emotional load. Each person’s presence made it easier for everyone else.
When we reached Memorial Church, several people were waiting for our arrival. They helped relieve us of the mattress, and then the entire group reflected on the day’s activities. It was really powerful for me to stand among friends and strangers, allies and survivors, people of all genders, and talk about this issue.
The prevalence of sexual assault on campus and university administrations’ reluctance to deal with it are cultural problems, and can only be resolved with a paradigm shift. How does it make sense that a student paying tuition to a university has to fight so hard to get that same university to act on her behalf after a crime has been committed against her? It doesn’t. And it needs to stop.
Events like Carry That Weight are certainly on the right track, but we are still very far from a world where campus leaders deal with sexual assault reports in a survivor-centric way. Should I even dream of a world that is just entirely free of sexual assault, where consent is always gotten, where people are mindful of others’ feelings, where everyone cares for everyone?
Although I doubt that ideal vision will be attained anytime soon, I carried that weight to create a world closer to that utopia. I carried that weight to show Emma Sulkowicz that she is not alone. I carried that weight to show every survivor of sexual assault that they are not alone. I carried that weight to show administrators that survivors have allies who will sacrifice for them. I carried that weight because I care.