Hands reached up to collectively carry a mattress, each person equally bearing the burden.
“The mattress represents the weight those who survive sexual violence on college campuses are forced to bear and live with in their daily lives — the weight that they carry,” said fourth-year Maya Desai. “The weight is compounded by the weight of institutional neglect to the issue. People are finding that they might report something and their university might not take any action whatsoever.”
Members of Student Health Outreach and Promotion (SHOP), Sexual Assault Facts and Education (SAFE) and the Student Union Assembly (SUA) collaborated to organize “Carry That Weight” on April 13, the national day of action to call for policy changes to how campuses handle reports of sexual violence.
The day of action was started at Columbia University in 2013 by Emma Sulkowicz, who said her sexual assault case was mishandled by the university. When the university ruled the male student she reported for rape was “not responsible,” Sulkowicz began an endurance art performance by carrying her 50-pound dorm mattress around until her rapist no longer attended the same school, or until her graduation.
“She won’t ask anyone for help but she will accept help, so the whole point is she will carry it around symbolizing her burden. Other people, if they want to, will help her,” said Marley Lix-Jones, one of the organizers of “Carry That Weight” at UC Santa Cruz. “It symbolizes community support. We want to do that and show our solidarity with her.”
At UCSC, “Carry That Weight” included a collective carrying of the mattress followed by a march around campus. As students passed, those who carried the mattresses asked, “Will you help us carry the weight?” The question symbolized the support for survivors and the collaborative commitment toward ending sexual violence.
“Something I appreciate about ‘Carry That Weight’ is the acknowledgment that any person can become a victim of sexual violence,” Lix-Jones said. “It is really not discriminating in any way. Whoever wants to help will help. There is definitely a problem with movements that are very female-centric and exclude male survivors.”
Students at the event also acknowledged UCSC’s own policies and practices in handling sexual assault and violence. On April 10, Chancellor George Blumenthal and Executive Vice Chancellor Alison Galloway announced the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights will review the “campus’s handling of sexual violence and sexual harassment cases.”
“Right now, we have a Title IX officer and a victim advocacy specialist, but that’s only one for a campus of approximately 16,000 students, so we definitely need more than just one person,” said Art Motta, the director of National Affairs in SUA’s Office of External Affairs. “To have one [Title IX] specialist for 16,000 students — it’s just not viable and it’s unreasonable.”
Motta said the policies UCSC currently has aren’t working, and there needs to be a change reflecting current campus climate. Desai, who is a part of SAFE, called “Carry That Weight” timely, in light of the investigation.
“If this is something your school is facing, this investigation, it is nice to have a public display of support and a march for awareness for these issues,” Desai said. “This is Sexual Assault Awareness Month, so this is a part of the ongoing events we’re doing. Hopefully anyone who is feeling rattled by knowing that UCSC is under this investigation can receive some measure of support or resources around this.”