By Nicole Bauke
Groups of college students across the nation joined together Wednesday to carry mattresses and pillows around campus to advocate for sexual assault victims and protest their discontent with our judicial system’s responses.
It started at Columbia University, where Emma Sulkowicz, senior visual arts major, was raped the first day of her sophomore year. She originally tried to avoid the emotional trauma that can oftentimes accompany reporting sexual assault, but decided to speak up after meeting two women with similar cases.
In an article in Time Magazine, Sulkowicz said that once her case finally went to court, testifying was an uncomfortable and unfriendly experience, and her attacker was found not guilty.
“I appealed, but appeals go to the dean who basically has the autonomy to make the final decision for every case of sexual assault on campus. That’s not right. They either must find a disinterested party or they should train him because he hasn’t been trained to know to deal with survivors,” Sulkowicz said in the Time article.
Wednesday showed that Northwestern students generally agree with Sulkowicz’s protests. Allison Towbes, a freshman theatre major, participated in the Day of Action because she thought there was an important message to be spread.
“We shouldn’t stand for rape and shouldn’t stand for rapists in our school systems. We have a right to feel protected in our home and it’s hard to feel safe if it’s impossible to put abusers in jail,” Towbes said.
Ross Cohen, a classmate of Towbes, added: “We are making the community at large recognize that sexual assault is something that we are aware of and want to start a discussion about. The significance is really about the visibility of the dominance of rape culture on college campuses.”
Rae Onders, a sophomore studying premed and English pointed out that “it’s a really interesting movement, having gone from one single person to across the country.”
Sulkowicz will carry her mattress until her rapist has been removed from campus. She faces constant obstacles, however, and states that many people don’t understand the need for advocating.
In the Time article, she said: “I’ve lost friends because some people just don’t understand what it means to be raped. One friend asked me if I thought that my rapist would be expelled from school. I said, ‘I really hope so.’ And he said, ‘Poor guy.’”
Many NU students recognized Sulkowicz’s story or name, whether they saw anyone carrying mattresses or not. They cited social media or their friends who were involved with the Day of Action as their source of knowledge, but others unfamiliar with Sulkowicz’s story didn’t understand the message.
“I did a double take. But I didn’t know anybody well enough to ask and, you know, you’re on your way to class,” said Erin Anderson, a senior majoring in communication studies and cognitive disorders.
“It’s not about attacking a single person,” Kevin Service, a sophomore majoring in mechanical engineering. “It’s about the idea that with circumstantial evidence and a delay going to court, someone guilty can be found innocent. We need to promote awareness that that’s not okay.”
Another student, Ryan McGinnis, added that “it’s also very unfair that people have to do something this extreme to get the idea noticed.”
Sulkowicz’s only rule when it comes to carrying her mattress is that she never asks for helps, but if help is offered she will accept. In her mind, no one should carry that weight alone.