Roaring for Justice: Carry That Weight Day of Action Rally

 

On October 29, the national Carry That Weight Day of Action, students around the country carried mattresses and pillows through their college campuses to show support for survivors of sexual and domestic violence. Columbia University students participated in a rally on the Low Steps, during which survivors, elected officials, and other supporters shared their stories. The Carry That Weight Day of Action was organized by No Red Tape and Carrying the Weight Together at Columbia University, with support from nonprofits Hollaback!, and Rhize.

When students first arrived at the rally at 4 pm, student activists were leading cheers aimed to scorn President Bollinger for his lack of efficient effort and actions with regard to the sexual assault problem on campus. These cheers contained lyrics including:

“Prezbo Prezbo you can’t hide, be the leader on our side.”

“Rape culture is contagious, come on Prezbo be courageous.”

“Mama Mama can’t you see

what Columbia’s done to me

Rape culture is all around

There’s no safety to be found.”

28 Columbia student groups carried 28 mattresses around campus all day. At the rally, the students stood behind their mattresses on the Low Steps.

Allie Rickard, head of Carrying the Weight Together and BC ’15, discussed the prevalence of sexual assault on college campuses all over the world and the importance of bystanders sharing the weight of the assaults with the survivors. “From our rally here on Low Steps, to students carrying mattresses in the UK, and showing their support in Singapore, we’re joining thousands at more than 130 schools in over 30 states and more than five countries today,” said Rickard.

Zoe Ridolfi-Starr of No Red Tape and CC ’15 announced that thousands of students around the world carried mattresses on their college campuses today to symbolize the burden of sexual and domestic violence that survivors need not carry alone.

Ridolfi-Starr went on to share her own story of sexual assault at Columbia University. Ridolfi-Starr spoke about the reactions she got when she first shared her story. She was told that she “shouldn’t have been so drunk” or “shouldn’t have put [herself] in that position.” Ridolfi-Starr went on to say, “In that moment, I needed somebody to say ‘What happened to you was not right, and it was not your fault.’ I needed somebody to ask me what they could do to help me feel safe. But no one did.”

 

Ridolfi-Starr said that when she first heard about Emma Sulkowicz and her vow to carry her mattress around Columbia’s campus as long as her rapist remains a student, she finally felt understood. She said “I saw my pain and my experiences and my reality, and finally I felt like I wasn’t alone. Like what happened to me made sense because it was part of a bigger problem. It was not a private, isolated, personal incident. It’s a culture that enables and perpetuates violence at Columbia, at all colleges and all institutions across this country and around the world.”

 

Emily May, Co-Founder and Executive Director of New York City-based Hollaback!, encouraged students to be themselves and wave their rights in the faces of anyone who tries to judge or oppress them. She said, “You’re going to show the world that you deserve to kiss your girlfriend without some creep asking if he can watch. You’re going to show the world you deserve to drink your coffee right here on these steps in peace. You’re going to show the world that you deserve to have short hair without being asked if you’re a girl or a boy. That you deserve to walk home without being told that you’re asking for it. That you deserve to develop solutions to war, poverty, and rising inequality completely uninterrupted. And that you deserve to be you, whatever that means that day, that hour, that minute.”

New York City Public Advocate and former Columbia University Graduate student Letitia James spoke about the need for adjudications that focus on justice rather than hiding the truth for Public Relations purposes. James said, “Today, each and every one of you is helping to make the point to the Columbia community, to the City of New York, and to the entire community of the entire country that more must be done.”

James continued to say, “More must be done so that we can shift the focus on educating individuals and children and young adults about consent and about bystander intervention and the responsibilities there too.” She then discouraged the message behind Taylor Swift’s hit single by saying, “We’re not shaking it off, we’re going to roar!”

Barnard Associate Professor of Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality studies Professor Jordan-Young spoke about the parallel between sexual violence on college campuses and sexual violence in families, of which she is a survivor. She said that the movement to stop sexual assault will strengthen if people pay attention to the parallel between the two unfortunately common forms of assault. “We belong to this community and we want to be loved here, we want to be respected and we deserve to be safe,” she said. “But, the community has hierarchies inside it, just like families do,” she explained. She went on to say that when we tell community members our stories, they often make us feel alone and at fault because they worry about adhering to the communal hierarchy.

The final speaker was Emma Sulkowicz, who inspired this whole movement by encouraging students across all college campuses to tangibly share the burden of sexual assault with survivors. Sulkowicz started her speech by saying, “It takes six people to make a mattress feel light. But to change the way sexual assault is handled on our campus, it’s going to take all of us. All of us students, all of the faculty, and especially all of the administrators.”

She specifically called on President Bollinger, saying, “Prezbo, I hope you’re listening.” She talked about how pathetic and unacceptable Prezbo’s efforts have been in making Sulkowicz and other survivors feel safe on campus. She said, “My serial rapist is still on this campus. You know who I’m talking about, I don’t need to say his name. If you Google image search ‘Emma Sulkowicz attacker’ his name is the first related search.” This statement illuminated the eerie fact that a well-known rapist is permitted by Columbia administrators to live on campus, eat in the school dining halls, roam the stacks of Butler, and attend classes with the rest of the student body. Sulkowicz expressed that she is still afraid of seeing her rapist every time she leaves her dorm.

Finally, Sulkowicz brought to light the fact that despite the large number of sexual assault cases brought to Columbia’s administrators, and despite the number of students found guilty of sexual assault on campus, there has yet to be a single expulsion.

Sulkowicz ended her speech saying, “Prezbo, stop hiding behind your words, and stop trying to make yourself look good. It’s time to make this campus livable for the survivors of sexual assault. All of us here have our eyes on you.”

Other speakers at the rally included GS student Rosie Hoffman, Political Chair of Muslim Students Association Alay Syed, Sarah Yee CC '16, Planned Parenthood of NYC activist Elizabeth Adams, and more. The rally concluded with students carrying their mattresses and storming towards Columbia’s administration building chanting for justice.