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Mattresses carried to protest sexual assault

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On April 15, students gathered outside the Bailey/Howe Library. Instead of backpacks and books, however, they brought their pillows and mattresses.

The event was called Carry That Weight, a tribute to the performance piece and events that transpired at Columbia University in 2012 when undergraduate student Emma Sulkowicz alleges she was raped in her dorm room, according to a May 29. 2015 New York Times article.

However, the university failed to take action against the perpetrator, inspiring Sulkowicz to create what became known as “The Mattress Performance.” She declared until her alleged rapist was expelled or brought to justice, she would carry her dorm mattress everywhere she went on campus, according to a Sep 14. Columbia Spectator article.

The Carry That Weight movement protests sexual assault on college campuses outside Bailey/Howe Library April 15. The protest was sponsored by SGA as a part of Sexual Violence Awareness Month.  PHIL CARRUTHERS/The Vermont Cynic

The Carry That Weight movement protests sexual assault on college campuses outside Bailey/Howe Library April 15. The protest was sponsored by SGA as a part of Sexual Violence Awareness Month.
PHIL CARRUTHERS/The Vermont Cynic

This continued through her graduation, where she carried the 50-pound mattress across the stage with her, according to a May 19. New York Times article. While Sulkowicz’s response to the situation was certainly unique, the events behind it are not.

According to the National Sexual Violence Resource Center, between 20 and 25 percent of all college women will be the victims of either attempted or completed sexual assault. To many, Sulkowicz’s story is unfortunately emblematic of the crisis on college campuses. With so many women reporting sexual assaults, there are countless others who don’t come forward.

Only six out of every 100 rapists will ever be put behind bars, according to the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network. This often makes the justice system seem unappealing to victims wary of reporting assault. UVM’s Sexual Violence Awareness month has been focusing on dealing with issues such as these, and Friday was the second annual Carry That Weight march.

Last year, Students Against Sexual Assault brought the event to campus, but this year, it was run through SGA, according to the Facebook event. “It’s a really good embodiment of what it means to stand together, survivors, allies and advocates,” sophomore Sage Ryan, SGA Chair of Public Relations, said.

A crowd of roughly 35 people showed up to silently march with posters, some participants carrying mattresses, Sulkowicz’s symbol of a university that turned its back on sexual assault. “[The march] gets people to be engaged,” Ryan said. “They have to read our signs and what we’re saying because it’s a silent protest.” The largest poster carried in front of the march read “Carry that Weight,” and underneath, “#EndTheSilence”. “No means no” and “Consent is sexy mandatory” read other posters.

A line of marchers could be seen all throughout Central Campus, walking with one another and carrying dorm room mattresses. “People seemed to respond really well,” said first-year Margaux Miller, a main organizer of the event. “At one point a guy from the crowd joined the walk once he saw what we were doing,” Miller said. “But I think everyone there was really passionate about the cause, which is all I can ask for.”

Although Columbia and the original “Mattress Performance” may seem far away, it is a culture all too close to any college campus. Rape culture is pervasive in institutions that want to preserve their reputations, according to a Sept. 15. U.S. News article, leaving countless victims like Sulkowicz carrying the weight of tragedy every day without justice. “Emma’s story resonates with me because she was put in such an intimidating situation: her, against her school,” Ryan said. “It’s so brave of her that she had enough motivation and drive to what she did. She stands for women everywhere.”

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Mattresses carried to protest sexual assault