"Rape culture is contagious, come on Prezbo, be courageous."
On October 29, hundreds of Columbia University students chanted the above as they protested the school's treatment of sexual-assault survivors. They left 28 mattresses (one for each of the 28 students who filed a Title IX complaint against the university) on the doorstep of President Lee C. Bollinger's residence and begged the Ivy League institution to finally address their concerns.
Instead, they were fined $471 for dirtying the mattresses, which were school property, and their powerful statement was tossed in a nearby Dumpster.
It all started back in September, when senior Emma Sulkowicz initiated a performance-art piece entitled Carry That Weight after her alleged rapist was found "not responsible" by the school. The visual-arts major carried her dorm-room mattress around campus to symbolize the weight she has felt since she was raped in her residence two years ago. Sulkowicz inspired a movement at the university, and a coalition of Columbia students and activists was formed under the same name. It was that group that protested the school's sexual-assault policy (or lack thereof) in October and was fined for harming school property.
Today, the association took its latest step toward boycotting the university's protocol by "paying" its fine — with a novelty mattress "check" made out to the institution. At 10 a.m., Carry That Weight delivered the check while reading aloud a letter written to the school's president:
"We dragged our mattresses to your home in an act of desperation," the students wrote. "We do not feel safe on this campus, and we fear for the students that come after us. There are rapists in our dorms, our dining halls, our libraries. There are survivors dropping out of school because no one is there to support them. We call on you to take immediate action: engage directly and meaningfully with students, and take our demands seriously. When students on this campus are unsafe, we need a President who will take action. When students demand to be heard, we need a President who responds. When the community is in crisis, we need a President who leads. It is time you listen to us and help us make this community safe for everyone. Be courageous President Bollinger, your students need you."
Student Allie Rickard, a member of Carry That Weight, hopes the group's latest endeavor will finally cause the school to take appropriate action. "Columbia University must stop punishing activists and survivors for speaking out and protesting against the continued inaction and negligence of the administration," she told Refinery29. "We are calling on President Bollinger to finally step up and start actively working together with student activists and survivors to make our campus safe."