By Leah Ching, Staff Writer
When Emma Sulkowicz embarked on her performance art piece “Mattress performance: Carry That Weight,” she inspired a coalition of students to stand up in support of survivors of sexual and domestic violence on campus.
Emma Sulkowicz’s story began in April of 2013 when she reported her rape by a male classmate to the college administration at Columbia University. Despite three other female students coming forward with similar allegations against the same individual, he was found not responsible by the university administration.
Emma embarked on her performance piece as a visual symbol of the weight she carries everyday as a rape survivor. Carrying the dorm mattress where she had been raped around campus, Emma took the mattress absolutely everywhere until both she and her rapist had graduated. Through this act of resistance, Emma bought the demand for policy change regarding sexual assault on campus into the public eye, both at Columbia University, and across North America.
Lakehead University’s Gender Issues Centre was one school of many to take part in the movement, helping to “Carry That Weight” and push for visible support for victims and survivors of sexual assault on Campus, and also push for the university administration to do more in regards of policy and support.GIC coordinator Stephanie Simko carried a mattress around campus and invited others to do the same. Handing out pamphlets and buttons, she invited people to sign a pledge to not only support survivors, but also as a call upon university administration to do the same.
Stephanie Simko sat down with the Argus to talk about the work the Gender Issues Centre is doing foster a safe environment for survivors and victims of sexual and domestic violence. “The need for this sort of action is apparent and pressing.” She also spoke about the timing of “Carry that Weight” through explaining the concept of the Red Zone.
“The Red Zone is when students are at the greatest risk of sexual assault. Within the first six weeks of school opening is when the most sexual assaults occur,” explained Simko. The weeks between student orientation and Thanksgiving break is the most dangerous time to be a woman on campus. According to statistics, one in five women will be sexually assaulted while she is in university, and large portions of those attacks are happening right now.
In reading through a bland looking pamphlet put out by Lakehead University administration called “Sexual Assault, What you can do after an assault,” it was clear that Lakehead provided no concrete commitment to creating a safe place for survivors, for preventing campus assault, or for creating a consent culture on campus.
Topics of the pamphlet included “what is sexual assault” explained through a dictionary definition that could be found through a Google search. Also included was the charter definition of “consent,” leaving readers to wonder how the university could publish a pamphlet targeted to assault survivors with such little care or thought.
Even more startling was the fact that the brochure made no commitment to providing a victim support against their rapist, instead thrusting the onus of responsibility onto the police. “If the matter does proceed to court, your participation as a witness will normally be required.” The language used by the writer is almost alarming. A supplementary brochure reads, (to reduce the risk of rape) “Mean and say what you express and feel, don’t play games.”
“This is the classic ‘don’t get raped’ patriarchal mind set being reproduced,” said first year Women’s Studies student Rachel upon reading of the university pamphlets. “The brochure even suggests taking caution when going on a first date, only go in large groups to public areas, and to question people’s intentions constantly. Instead of applying consequence on rapists, they give out a list of how not to get raped. Fucking disgusting, if you ask me.”
If these brochures produced by Lakehead are any indication, the need for movements like Carry That Weight is extremely apparent. A strong call toward University policy change, Carry that Weight requests justice for victims, and for holding perpetrators responsible for their actions.