12 Powerful Reasons Why College Students Chose to "Carry That Weight" for National Day Of Action

When Emma Sulkowicz set out on Columbia University’s campus at the beginning of this school year with the intention to carry her dorm room mattress from class to class, the spark of a revolution was ignited. The mission behind Sulkowicz' “Mattress Project/Carry That Weight” was simple, but powerful; when no action was taken after she reported her rapist to the police and filed a Title IX complaint against Columbia, the class of 2015 senior decided she would carry a mattress with her until her assailant is either expelled, or she graduates. On October 29, Sulkowicz was backed by an army of coeds who carried their own mattresses around for National Day of Action, an event organized by student group Carrying the Weight Together as a movement of solidarity demanding reform.

Carrying the Weight Together has organized “collective carries” on Columbia’s campus in the past, where student groups sign up for a time slot during which they can help to carry Sulkowicz’ mattress from one place to another. As part of its Day Of Action, students from 130 different universities across the country brought out their own mattresses to show that they are serious about sexual assault policy reform. The day ended in a rally at Columbia, where speakers including Sulkowicz, New York City Public Advocate Tish James, and Elizabeth Adams of Planned Parenthood of NYC spoke out in demand for justice.

While Sulkowicz has emerged as the figurehead of this student protest against unethical and outdated sexual assault policies held by many universities, she has also empowered others to speak out against rape culture. What started out as a single person’s visual arts thesis project has turned into a massive call to action amongst students who are fighting against universities' lax treatment of sexual assault on the college campus. This is not one voice. It is a chorus of students demanding change and demanding that they be heard. Bustle spoke to Columbia students on campus during yesterday's National Day of Action to hear why they chose to also carry the weight. This is what they had to say:

1. To Pressure Universities to Reform Their Policies

"There has been a lot of publicity around how Columbia has handled issues of sexual assault, and students have tried to get justice essentially, but having their assaulters on campus is really damaging for their learning ability and it's completely inappropriate how the university has handled it. So I'm here to put more pressure on the university to update their policy in a way that supports survivors much more comprehensively and thoroughly." — Emily Jones, Barnard College 

2. To Empower Other Survivors

"This is a way, as a survivor, to give life to other survivors, and to people who haven't spoken up about their experiences with sexual assault and domestic violence. It's a way to extend the solidarity, and break my own silence." — Terranisha Hiley, Columbia College

3. To Demand Protection for Women

"This is important because right now, we are on a campus that does not protect its women, and when a woman is assaulted, it silences that woman and shames that woman and oppresses that woman...Instead of living in a place that blames the rapist by saying "don't rape," we hear things like, "don't wear short skirts, don't show your cleavage." And then there are women who are raped and the reaction is to protect that male rapist. It's disgusting and it has to stop." — Juliette Kessler, Barnard College

4. To Create A Safe Space

"I support Emma Sulkowicz because I firmly believe in her cause, and I think that what she's doing is so drastically important and beautiful. We really need to live on a safe campus, and it's simply not OK that her assailant is still here." — Carly Ginsberg, Barnard College 

5. To Illuminate the Reality of Rape Culture

"The most insidious thing about rape culture is how invisible it is. Many survivors don't feel comfortable coming forward and don't feel safe coming forward, so it's important for the greater community to come forward to recognize them and see them. Recognizing them keeps us from erasing their experience, and that, in itself, is a powerful act." — Jo Chiang, Barnard College

6. To Stop Victim-Blaming

"Because we don't acknowledge that these are actually injustices that happen to people, we don't even realize that some of our friends have stories of rape or sexual assault and violence. We need to show our support in the hopes that justice will be a reality in these cases." — Vanessa Messan, Barnard College

7. To Take a Stance Against Assault

"Sexual assault is completely unacceptable, and the well-being of a student should be first and foremost at a university like this." — Korinne DeCesario, Barnard College

8. To Show Solidarity

"I'm doing this because everyone deserves to feel safe, and if we can show solidarity by spending a single day carrying a mattress, I am willing and able to do that." — Hilary Mogul, School of Engineering and Applied Sciences

9. To Show That Student Groups Care

"[This event] is specifically really important because it's a chance for a lot of groups on campus to show solidarity. We're the swing dance group, so we're not an activist group on campus, but obviously we have people who were affected by this issue, so we want to show that there are supportive groups on campus. Actually, one of the things the swing dance club is doing is creating our own policy on sexual assault. So what I love about this day is that we are calling on Columbia University to create a safe space, but we're also creating safe spaces ourselves, whether or not they're going to help us." — Corey Wagner, Barnard College 

10. To Show Support

"One of my friends in my sorority tried to get a bunch of us together to take turns carrying this mattress, which is a great way for us, as sisters in the sorority, to come together and also to show the Columbia community that this is something that we care about and are invested in, and something that several of us have been personally affected by. So it's a great way for us to show our support for each other and also for the Columbia community." — Brynn Harris, Columbia College

11. To Be A Part of a National Call-to-Action

"The Day of Action is important because "Carry That Weight" isn't supposed to be something that's localized at Columbia's campus. The lack of support that survivors face from the adjudication process is an issue at campuses all over the country, which is why there are 140-some odd events going on across campuses today." — Max Binder, Columbia College

12. To Foster a Sense of Community

"Something I think is really important about this day in particular is that it's such an admirable and courageous thing for Emma Sulkowicz [to do] until either she graduates, or her rapist is expelled from Columbia, but it's so much more meaningful if I walk through campus today and see 20 different mattresses with 20 different faces that I know. It really fosters a sense of community and the thought that we are all in this together, because we're all having the same college experience." — Molly Lo Re, Barnard College

Photos: Rebecca Deczynski

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