Inspired by Struggle of Columbia Student, Rutgers Community Carries The Weight of Violence Survivors

NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ—In an international show of support of those who have suffered or continue to suffer from sexual abuse and domestic violence, Rutgers students, as well as faculty, staff, friends, and colleagues joined together for a day-long event on October 29 dubbed "Carry the Weight."

It all started when a Columbia University art student, Emma Sulkowicz, decided to carry her own dormitory mattress whenever she was on campus as part of her senior thesis.

Sulkowicz claims she was raped by one of her peers, also a Columbia University student, and the University has not responded to her allegations. She says that her performance art is a call for help for her school to take disciplinary action.

Inspired by Sulkowicz, over 130 schools across the planet took part in demonstrations on October 29, as a tribute to victims of violence.

On the New Brunswick campus of Rutgers University, Women Organizing Against Harassment, Douglass Residential College, Office of Violence Prevention and Victim Assistance, Rutgers University Students Assembly, Scream Theater, Sigma Psi Zeta, Women's Center Coalition, Speak Out, Douglass Friends of UNFPA and Rutgers Residence Life joined forces for the events, held in front of Brower Commons and the Douglass Campus Center all day in support of Sulkowicz.

“The carrying the weight campaign was a huge success,” Boulware tells New Brunswick Today, the paper she has been writing for for only a few months but has already published several popular and powerful stories on public safety issues, including domestic violence.

“We really pulled off a great day long action that got the message out about sexual assault on college campuses,” Boulware said.

Boulware emailed the campaign organizer from Columbia and started organizing the Rutgers event only six days prior to the national day of action.

Boulware reached out to other student leaders including RUSA President Kristine Baffo, RUSA Senator-At-Large Francine Glaser, Douglass Governing Council President Raven Jenerson and student organizer Sara Stern. 

"Students who participated in the action carried their mattress all over campus — to class, on the bus, to work, everywhere," wrote Kaila Boulware in her Targum piece published after the day of action. "The weight of those mattresses is heavy and symbolizes the weight that survivors carry around everyday."

According to the Daily Targum, 24 mattresses were carried were carried during a march that started in front of Brower Commons on College Avenue.

Students, contacted by Boulware and the many other organizations, worked in shifts and handed out resource sheets to others. The fliers were created by WOAH and were made available by VPVA, and described several services listed for survivors of violence.

The resource sheets also provided a definition of enthusiastic consent, “which is the idea that consent between people should be clear and understandable before engaging in sex,” explains Boulware.

“It was really inspiring to see everyone in solidarity with this issue and hearing how inspired people felt. People kept thanking me for organizing the campaign, but honestly everyone else deserves a huge thank you for being a part of it. I am so inspired by everyone's efforts. I can’t thank them enough."