Students carry mattresses in national demonstration against sexual assault


Olivia Exstrum/Daily Senior Staffer

Communication freshmen Phoebe Fox, Kimberly McBride, Gaby Sant’Anna and Allison Towbes carry a mattress as part of the Carry That Weight Day of Action. Colleges across the country participated to show support for survivors of sexual assault.

Olivia Exstrum, Assistant Campus Editor

Northwestern students carried mattresses and pillows around campus Wednesday in a display of solidarity with survivors of sexual assault nationwide.

The Carry That Weight Day of Action took place on college campuses across the country. The movement began at Columbia University, where students have organized in support of Emma Sulkowicz, a senior at the university who is carrying her dorm mattress around campus every day until her alleged rapist is expelled.

Sulkowicz’s actions are both her performance art senior thesis and a protest toward Columbia’s administrators, who found her alleged assailant not guilty of the rape. She said she was raped during her sophomore year in her dorm room by a fellow student who was also the subject of other sexual assault accusations.

The event on NU’s campus was organized by Weinberg senior Jazz Stephens, who said carrying her mattress Wednesday was a “really cool experience.”

“It was very empowering to be able to carry a tangible reminder of something we stigmatize,” Stephens said. “We tend to be really uncomfortable hearing stories about people’s experiences with sexual assault. The stigma can be very silencing.”

Weinberg freshmen Troy Thisler (front) and Aaron Clarke carry a mattress together as they walk past The Arch on Wednesday. Students participated in the demonstration of support for sexual assault survivors around Northwestern’s campus and on college campuses nationwide.
Sean Su/Daily Senior Staffer
Weinberg freshmen Troy Thisler (front) and Aaron Clarke carry a mattress together as they walk past The Arch on Wednesday.

Weinberg sophomore Gus Berrizbeitia,  who also participated in the day of action, said carrying mattresses is symbolic of the weight placed on victims of sexual assault.

“It’s an intense burden that (Sulkowicz) has to deal with every single day,” Berrizbeitia said. “By all accounts, the (Columbia) administration has sided with (the alleged rapist) and his version of the events. The message is to demonstrate that rape culture is a systemic problem.”

Stephens said the experience of carrying “heavy, unwieldy” mattresses is comparable to the experiences of sexual assault survivors.

“Emma said the only time the mattress is light is when multiple people are carrying it, and that has very strong parallels to the experience of survivors,” she said.

Some students carried mattresses alone Wednesday, while others formed groups to carry them together.

Students participating could choose to carry a mattress or pillow. However, Sulkowicz said in an op-ed in the Columbia Daily Spectator that she encourages students not to carry pillows as they may detract from the day’s message.

Weinberg sophomore Isabel Sturla said although she chose to carry a pillow, she doesn’t want to diminish the event’s meaning. Sturla said she chose to participate because although sexual assault hasn’t affected her on a personal level, she wanted to show solidarity with survivors.

“Sexual assault survivors are consistently disrespected in many different ways,” she said. “As a physical sign on campus, it’s a good reminder that there are still people out here who suffer and it’s still not okay and it still affects them.”

Stephens said she decided to organize the event at NU when she noticed students at other schools participating. In light of philosophy Prof. Peter Ludlow’s filing of a defamation lawsuit Tuesday against the Medill senior who has accused him of sexual assault, Stephens said she was “very glad we decided to do it.”

“I’m hoping this isn’t a one-time event,” she said. “I hope we continue putting pressure on administration to better support survivors here … That would be my hope moving forward.”

Email: [email protected]
Twitter: @olivesocean