“Mattress girl” has become well known throughout Columbia University for carrying around the mattress she was sexually assaulted in with her every day because her rapist was not only allowed to remain on campus, but also was not charged with any degree of sexual assault.
Emma Sulkowicz, known as “mattress girl,” has unintentionally sparked a movement that has spread not only across her campus, but to over 70 other colleges across the country. A group of students called Carry That Weight Together started helping Sulkowicz carry her mattress around, supporting her and all other survivors.
Soon after, college students began posting their support on Twitter with pictures of hundreds of students carrying mattresses and messages ranging from simply “stand” to “I support survivors of sexual and domestic violence, and I am helping to #CarryThatWeight.” Every tweet is accompanied by this hashtag, and colleges such as University of Winnipeg, University of Michigan, Penn State and UVM across the lake have participated.
This is a huge step in the right direction, and not only is it opening eyes and getting students involved, Carry That Weight has sparked federal investigations in more than 55 colleges and universities. It also brought about the White House Task Force to Protect Students from Sexual Assault launched Jan. 22. This task force has resources teaching others how to respond and prevent sexual assault, as well as a crisis service, knowing your rights, how to file a complaint and a school-by-school enforcement map, evaluating colleges and universities compliance with laws against sexual assault.
Since the creation of this, there has been a huge rise in reports now that students are aware of how to address their situation.
The presidential campaign “It’s on Us” was also launched, emphasizing men’s involvement in this as well with a video that is not only a call for men to help women, but also teaches how to look at a situation and recognize if it is dangerous, and how to step in and stop it.
With students across college campuses taking this seriously and speaking out, all that’s left to make this a strong movement is the participation of college administrators. When it comes down to it, they are the people who decide what happens to students who have done wrong.
One-in-five women in college will experience sexual assault. Take a moment and think about all of your classes and how many women are in them. Think about how many women you are friends with. No doubt you know more than five. The only question is which one of them will be walking around with a mattress over her head.
So this campaign is not only a call for attention, but also for action. Our culture needs a big shift, and this is a great way to start it.
The Carry That Weight campaign has even come close to us, when UVM held a support event Oct. 29, on the National Day of Action, where about 75 students marched across campus to raise awareness.
This is a topic that should be addressed openly. It is either mishandled or ignored completely, but the violation of someone else’s body should take priority. Whether it’s a college fixated on upholding its reputation or just victim-blaming, our ideology behind this needs to change. It’s time for both men and women to stand together against sexual assault of any kind.
Email Amanda Little at firstname.lastname@example.org.