The Student News Site of Macalester College

The Mac Weekly

The Student News Site of Macalester College

The Mac Weekly

The Student News Site of Macalester College

The Mac Weekly

Your mattress march does not alleviate the weight I carry

This past Wednesday students across the country, including students at Macalester, participated in the Carry that Weight Day of Action. This event was inspired by Emma Sulkowicz’s project to carry her dorm mattress through campus and classes until her rapist leaves, the school expels her rapists, or until she graduates. Another student in the Columbia community, Allie Rickard, recognized the powerful solidarity she observed as students helped Emma carry her mattress so, with Emma Sulkowicz’s blessing, decided to create a national event scheduled for this past Wednesday during which students everywhere would mirror this action to support survivors of sexual and domestic violence. As Macalester is forever enthusiastic about social justice and activism, several students jumped on board to organize the local iteration of this event.

As soon as I looked over the the Facebook event my stomach dropped. This appeared to be an event for allies to show solidarity with survivors, not necessarily a venue for survivors themselves. How would they know that enough survivors would show up to “carry the weight” in the first place? “Allies” that have not experienced these types of violence will never have to “carry the weight” emotionally and hence should not be carrying it symbolically.

This event breaks all the rules of good allyship: it is a one time event – not perpetual acts of solidarity, it is symbolic – not tangible action, it centers the action of allies – not the voice of survivors, and in my opinion, it appropriates an image a survivor created to represent the unbearable burden of trauma. As a survivor of sexual violence I am appalled by this event. I learned that due to the desire to comply with all campus policies, removing school issued mattresses was not condoned. Instead, allies were instructed to carry pillows so that they could still show their support for survivors. The call to carry pillows was labeled as addressing physical and logistical impossibilities. I find this is even more offensive. Carrying a pillow to symbolize the weight of such a trauma, the weight of losing autonomy, desire and self is laughable, especially in the name of logistical impossibility. When I find it logistically (or physically) impossible to carry the weight of my assaults I shut down, I sleep, I cry, I hurt, I disappear. I do not get to turn it in for something easier to carry so I can go about my day as usual. This pillow-alternative was not exclusive to Macalester and luckily Emma Sulkowicz caught onto the trend and condemned it in an op-ed in last Sunday’s Columbia Daily Spectator.

When I brought my concerns to organizers of the event at Macalester with Sulkowicz’s op-ed, they readily dropped the pillow aspect of the event and urged students who had already signed up to participate to not carry pillows. I also asked that the entire hastily planned and ever-changing event be canceled in favor of a future, more inclusive conversation between survivors and allies. I felt heard at this planning meeting. Everyone seemed to agree that if the pillow plans could not be carried out in good conscience and carrying mattresses was out of the question, the only part of the event that could remain was tabling, perhaps including large sheets of paper with prompts about “how to be an ally to survivors” at their table so that our voices could be centered.

But afterward I received several messages from two of the organizers to confirm that I felt heard and to thank me for my participation in planning their event. Contrary to these messages and the seeming consensus at the meeting to cancel the event and plan a new one, the Facebook page was not deleted. The information about the mattress march was not removed. Updates to the event continued to stream in. Eventually students with mattresses that didn’t belong to Mac were encouraged to bring them “to show that this is a burden we carry as a community and we all have a duty to create a safe environment at Mac.” My feelings of discomfort and unsafety with the event were not important enough to be considered in this act of “solidarity.”.My voice had been drowned out by what felt like the voices of allies hoping to act on the Day of Action rather than planning a well thought out, inclusive event that would not alienate any survivor. These plans seemed to favor allies’ desire to feel good about acts of solidarity and the voices of survivors who felt empowered by the prospects of this event. Even after another uncomfortable meeting with the two organizers (an hour before the scheduled event) I was required to reiterate that I did not want the event in any of its forms to happen. They hoped that I could find solace in the fact that at least 100 students at Macalester intended to support me. I responded that it just felt like another 100 people I would have to remind that their good deed didn’t feel good to everyone. I walked away tired of the miscommunication and emotionally exhausted with having to put myself out there time and again. The Carrying the Weight Together mattress march was then carried out on Wednesday afternoon. While I in no way wish to denounce the survivors who wanted this event to proceed, I hope they can understand that there are survivors who found this display deeply problematic, hurtful and misinformed.

I certainly hope that a future event starts a dialogue on solidarity between “allies” and survivors. I fully intend on helping plan and participating in such a panel, forum or discussion. Until then I need forms of solidarity that urge administration to not discourage survivors to involve outside legal proceedings. I need you to make an effort to warn the people around you if you are going to bring up the issue of rape culture and encourage professors to include content and trigger warnings for sensitive readings and discussions. Let me cry to you. Call out people who use PTSD as a punch line, take Consent is Mac seriously, respect my boundaries when I tell my story, and center my voice and not your feelings. Understand that not all survivors want the same thing, know that impact matters more than intent, allow me to switch back and forth between wishing my attackers dead and wanting to forgive them, and don’t try to symbolically emulate the weight I bare by carrying bedroom furniture. And I need you to be present for the ever-growing discourse about what it means to “be an ally” to survivors.

View Comments (7)
More to Discover

Comments (7)

All The Mac Weekly Picks Reader Picks Sort: Newest

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

  • J

    Joshua WalshSep 9, 2019 at 3:51 am

    I believe this internet site has very excellent composed articles content.