Editor’s note: This article was initially published in The Daily Gazette, Swarthmore’s online, daily newspaper founded in Fall 1996. As of Fall 2018, the DG has merged with The Phoenix. See the about page to read more about the DG.
ASAP sponsored a project that began this Wednesday in solidarity with a piece of performance art by Emma Sulkowicz, a current senior at Columbia University in which she vowed to carry a mattress to promote awareness of the mishandling of sexual assault. Sulkowicz will carry this mattress as long as her rapist attends Columbia. Emma’s close friends Zoe Ridolfi-Starr and Allie Rickard then organized the National Day of Action where supporters across the globe carry their own mattresses on October 29th, which ASAP brought to Swarthmore’s campus.
Participants gathered on the steps of Parrish at 12:30 pm on Wednesday, October 30, where one of the organizers, NK ’16, explained the significance of carrying the mattress around campus: “This is very much an exercise in asking [the] campus to participate. We’re not going to be forcing an action onto people. It will be interesting for all of us to see how people respond to this. All kinds of responses will be telling, whether it’s from staff and faculty or other students. This action is designed so that it’s a success either way. We learn something about who is in support of survivors on campus and who feels otherwise.”
Students then carried the mattress down to Sharples and left it at the top of the stairs down to the servery. The mattress had a sign inviting passing students to “take it to all parts of campus that you frequent, and pass it on to another person or group of people.” Once the mattress reached Sharples, the group had a moment of silence and a few students shared comments.
Sara Blazevic ‘15 said, “I think because sexual assault is such a personal experience for some people, it doesn’t always lend itself to collective displays of strength and solidarity. It feels really important to be reminded that on a daily basis lots of people are carrying around a lot of pain and trauma.”
Darbus Oldham ‘17 added, “It’s also hard right now in light of one of the counter-chalkings which was particularly against this. It’s a reminder that not everyone at Swarthmore gets what’s going on, not everyone is in support of victims and survivors. So I think this is a very timely event as a result.”
Other students not in attendance shared their thoughts on the project. Doriana Thornton ‘16, currently studying abroad, compared the action to The Clothesline Project, an art project held every year in front of Parrish to promote awareness about those who have been sexually assaulted: “This is different from The Clotheslines Project in that it is not sharing the experiences of Swarthmore students who have survived abuse or assault. Personally I think this is good because it is less triggering for me, though I’m not on campus right now so that also might have something to do with it. This seems like an action that carries less potential emotional trauma than The Clothesline Project.”
In response to the project, Hope Brinn ‘15, said, “I’m thrilled that there are such visible expressions of solidarity on campus. That said, I worry that some people will participate just so that they can feel good about themselves as allies and maybe take a few selfies to put on social media as well. I hope people realize that helping carry a mattress is only symbolic help. Real allies must do hard work. That might take the shape of pushing for policy changes, educating rape apologists, working for ASAP, and actually listening to and believing survivors.”
When asked about how Swarthmore can move forward, Thornton replied, “Swarthmore students should be thinking about consent a lot and educating themselves as much as possible because it is SO easy to violate, traumatize, or rape someone without meaning to. Bad people aren’t the only ones that rape. I have been in situations where I could have used better, more active consent. It’s important for everyone to own up to the holes in their consent knowledge and thrive to get better at using consent (not just in sexual situations!). Though I wasn’t here in the fall to take part in ASAP, the school generally needs to improve those trainings and increase the number of mandatory consent workshops for the whole student body. Also, swatties should be calling their friends out and learning about bystander intervention.”
“I hope that this action reminds community members of the immense importance their voices and actions carry. We all have an obligation to end rape culture.” said Brinn.
The first students to carry the mattress were Alex Jimenez ‘16, Julia Denney ‘16, and Nikki Miller ‘16, shown below.
To learn more about the Carry That Weight National Day of Action, see Emma Sulkowicz’ op-ed in the Columbia Spectator.
Images courtesy of NK ’16, the last image courtesy of Isabel Knight ’16.