Students for Consent and Communication (SFCC) held a rally outside Usdan on Friday, Sept. 19, in solidarity with Columbia University senior Emma Sulkowicz, a sexual assault survivor. For her thesis, Sulkowicz has decided to carry around her dorm room mattress to symbolize the weight she feels she must carry while attending the same school as her alleged rapist. The rally at Wesleyan supported Sulkowicz’s artistic protest against her school’s failure to act on her rape charge.
SFCC, a group dedicated to promoting enthusiastic consent and discussing campus policies related to sexual assault, chose to emulate a rally held at Columbia University on Monday, Sept. 15. At the Columbia rally, roughly 100 students showed up with mattresses to protest the apparent failure of the school’s administration to address rape cases: many similar rape cases have supposedly been ignored, including two reported assaults by Sulkowicz’s alleged rapist.
At the Wesleyan rally, students displayed mattresses with different messages of support, using the hashtag #carrythatweight.
Students were also invited to make posters, take pictures and post them on Instagram, and write down specific actions they would take to dismantle rape culture. Students wrote responses such as, “To listen,” and, “To call out rape culture.”
Co-Presidents of SFCC Nina Gurak ’16 and Caillin Puente ’15 led chants to attract attention to the cause, calling for students to “stop the violence, stop the hate.” A group of approximately 20 participants formed and took part in the rally’s activities.
Puente organized the rally both to raise awareness of Sulkowicz’s cause at Columbia University and to call attention to similar problems that occur at Wesleyan and other college campuses across the country.
“We wanted to show that students support Emma, but also show that this happens on our campus and that this is not specific to Columbia,” Puente said. “We wanted to raise awareness and have people commit to action and change rape culture with direct things they plan to do. It’s really easy to post something on Facebook, but it’s different to show your support in real life.”
Levi Huang ’18 elaborated further on the significance of the rally.
“[Victims] carry that weight and have no blame,” Huang said. “There should be a change in how administrations handle [rape cases]. The Feminist Underground is working to have their cases heard by the Wesleyan administration as well.”
Sulkowicz has spoken openly about her personal protest campaign.
“Rape can happen anywhere, but I was attacked in my own dorm bed,” Sulkowicz said in an interview with Time Magazine. “For me that place that is normally very intimate and pure was desecrated and very fraught. The piece is about carrying the memory of that everywhere I go.”
The organizers of the rally at Wesleyan were impressed by Sulkowicz’s openness and dedication.
“I think the idea of her taking something from the private environment of her bedroom and bringing it out into the open was a really creative idea,” Puente said. “It’s an issue that people are so ashamed about, and bringing it out was incredibly brave of her. She’s using her story to help inspire other people.”
Huang, who joined SFCC this month, described the mission and importance of the event.
“The aims are societal recognition of what assault is and how we should support the victims,” Huang said. “We are trying to get the administration to take action against the perpetrator, like expelling him.”
Puente believes that listening to victims is the most effective way to address the ongoing issue of sexual violence, on campus and elsewhere.
“One thing we really push for is the ‘start by believing’ idea, and not comparing other people’s stories,” Puente said. “Also, by calling out rape culture in daily life and not letting rape jokes go by; even your friends can say something contributing to rape culture. Also, sexual assault is universal. Broadening the conversation is really important at home, not only at Wesleyan.”