Hundreds of Columbia students darted across Amsterdam Avenue in the rain yesterday evening to stack 28 soggy mattresses at Columbia president Lee Bollinger’s doorstep. (They left a little room in front of the door, so as not to create a fire hazard.)
“Presbo, Presbo, you can’t hide … Be the leader on our side,” they chanted, as they taped a list of demands for how Columbia should reform its sexual-assault policies to the president’s door.
The action was one of approximately 130 similar protests taking place across the globe, from Hungary’s Central European University to Berkeley, to raise attention to the struggles of sexual-assault victims on campuses and beyond. The mattresses represented 28 complainants in Columbia’s Title IX case, and were inspired by Emma Sulkowicz’s senior thesis project, Carry That Weight. Giving an outlet to ongoing frustration among Columbia and Barnard students, as well as providing support for Sulkowicz, Wednesday’s event had the tagline “Carrying the Weight Together.”
“We wanted to make sure he could not ignore us,” said Zoe Ridolfi-Starr, who organized the event with the student activist group No Red Tape. “It is more and more clear that we have to bring this issue to his literal doorstep if that’s what we have to do to make sure our voices are heard and survivors are protected in this community.”
Earlier in the afternoon a diverse crowd representing groups, like Hillel, Students for Justice in Palestine, and the Columbia Swing Dancing Team, transported the mattresses that had been signed and covered with slogans written in red tape across Broadway from Barnard to Columbia’s Low Library steps. The mattresses sat alongside the school’s alma-mater sculpture, where students unfurled banners reading, “Carry that Weight.” One woman wore a T-shirt that said, “My P*ssy is a Gangsta.”
“The hashtag is carrythatweight!” an organizer shouted to the protestors, who were also given a typed sheet of possible protest chants. “Share this on social media!”
Speakers, many whom were sexual-violence survivors, took to the bullhorn. One woman told a story of being raped after her macaroni and cheese was drugged, and another woman of being assaulted at a Columbia frat house. Attendees listened attentively and wiped away tears as a helicopter circled overhead.
Much of the anger was directed at the stately Columbia administration buildings. Sulkowicz decried the current administration’s response.
“I’m no less afraid of seeing my rapist every time I leave my dorm,” Sulkowicz said. “Dear Presbo, please make some real changes. Your new policies were a step in the right direction, but they still suck a lot.”
Columbia told Huffington Post in a statement, “We understand that reports about these cases in the media can be deeply distressing, and our hearts go out to any students who feel they have been mistreated … Columbia embraces its responsibility to be a leader in preventing sexual assault and other gender-based misconduct anywhere it may occur, with a special duty to protect the safety and well-being of our own students.”
Yesterday, President Bollinger had an op-ed published in The New Republic (co-authored with law professor Suzanne B. Goldberg).
“Indeed, the first and highest priority for all credible people who devote their professional lives to higher education is to ensure that students — and all community members — have the opportunity to learn and thrive in their educational environment,” they wrote. “As faculty members, leaders within our institution and parents ourselves, the need to prevent sexual violence is something we feel urgently, both personally and professionally.”
While Sulkowicz’s project has brought international attention, organizers say there is still no news of her case being reopened.
“As our tenth demand, we called on the university to reopen Emma’s case, and they have not addressed that in any form whatsoever. It is unfortunate it has come to this point,” said organizer Allie Rickard. “But we need them to respond.”