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Students work together in a “collective carry” action to bring Emma Sulkowicz’s mattress across campus.

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For over a month now, my close friends Zoe Ridolfi-Starr and Allie Rickard have worked tirelessly to plan a National Day of Action to stand in solidarity with the survivors of sexual violence. I wholeheartedly support their event. I am humbled by my friends’ unending commitment and by the countless others who have reached out to me and shared their stories. I encourage everyone to participate on Oct. 29 by either carrying a mattress or helping others carry their mattresses.

I realize that many of you who want to participate will feel unable to carry a mattress on this day. I want to emphasize that I don't think that this diminishes your commitment, for you can still help others who have decided to carry mattresses. After all, mattresses are heavy and unwieldy. We can only get through this day if we collaborate and help each other carry this weight.

[Related video: Emma Sulkowicz, CC ’15, to mix performance art, sexual assault protest]

However, I understand that many of you are considering carrying a pillow on this day of action. I hope that very few of you end up carrying pillows. Pillows are “light,” “fluffy,” and may detract from our message. The propagation of images of people carrying pillows could undercut our understanding of the gravity of sexual assault, and imbue what should be seen as a serious crime with “cute” and “celebratory” connotations. If we flood the Internet with images and the inevitable “selfies” that look like they came from a slumber party, we will fail to communicate what I think we all believe: Sexual assault is neither a “light” nor “fluffy” matter, and we cannot treat it as if it were.

Rape is serious. It is a crime. It is grave, heavy, hard to deal with, and emotionally debilitating in too many ways to list here. When discussing a topic as serious as this, one that has personally affected the lives of countless survivors and their supporters, it is important that everyone choose not only their words, but also their visual and symbolic language carefully. Our stories and trauma are real. We must consider the consequences of our actions, for we run the risk of belittling someone’s pain. I carry a mattress, because I want to give visual expression to the struggle that the survivors of sexual violence must endure.

My biggest dream for this day of action is that hundreds, even thousands, of people participate. However, it would upset me if so many people carried pillows that there were no hands left to help those who have decided to carry mattresses. My mattress only begins to feel light when there are five pairs of hands on it. Pillows are singular, individual, and keep us from literally carrying the weight together.

[Related article: Students help Emma Sulkowicz carry mattress to class in first collective carry]

So, on this Day of Action, let’s choose symbolism that will not diminish our efforts and trivialize the experiences of survivors and their supporters. If you cannot carry a mattress, please do your best to help others with their mattresses and show your support. For example, my sister suggested that, rather than carry pillows, people tape a red X somewhere on their persons as a sign of their participation and willingness to help others with their mattresses.

I am so moved by, and grateful for, all the enthusiasm for this cause. I am blown away by the work of Zoe and Allie, who, without my ever having to ask them once, worked so hard to organize such a large-scale event.

Let’s act as a community and support each other on this day. Let’s carry the weight together. I’ll see you there.

The author is a Columbia College senior majoring in visual arts.

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Carry That Weight carrying the weight together sexual assault Day of Action zoe ridolfi-starr allie rickard
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