Much has already been written and said about Columbia student Emma Sulkowicz’s bold performance “Carry that Weight,” a protest piece where she has vowed to carry her large mattress everywhere she goes until her rapist--a fellow student--is expelled from Columbia. As sister-protests emerge on college campuses across the country, greater pressure is being put on university administrators to take the sexual assault epidemic more seriously.
As she describes in a video interview with TIME Magazine, survivors like Sulkowicz often are forced to deal with administrations that are ill-prepared to collect a survivor’s testimony, thus making their cases incomprehensible and more easily cast aside. Additionally, despite the fact that many assailants (like Sulkowicz’s) are repeat-offenders who are likely to commit as many as six different instances of assault during their time on-campus, many school administrations will assess the facts of each complaint individually, instead of viewing the alleged as a serial attacker. What does this mean? It means that assailants are nearly always allowed to continue to enjoy the same rights and privileges on-campus as those that they have harmed. In fact, some have gone so far as to bring Honor Court cases against their victims, as was the 2013 case at UNC-Chapel Hill when Landen Gambill was accused of “creating a hostile environment” for her (unnamed) rapist when describing the circumstances of her sexual assault. In the very rare cases where an assailant is proven guilty, they are almost never dismissed from campus, and are typically at worst suspended for a semester (sometimes after graduation) or made to merely do a few hours of community service or write an essay.
Universities under Title IX have, legal, financial, and moral obligations to protect their students to the best of their ability, or failing that, to expel those who have violated (and often times will continue to violate) the safety of others. Instead, universities frequently wind up taking action to suppress the voices of violence-survivors and their allies, and aligning themselves with the alleged assailants as we saw in the recent investigations into Brown and Columbia’s respective “Rapist Lists”. Or alternatively, they cancel popular events in what is at best a misguided effort to encourage student safety, and at worst is a petty punishment to the entire student body.
To be clear, we at EROC do not seek to blacken the name or reputation of any school’s administration. Instead, we extend an invitation to these administrations to take their rightful place alongside their student survivors and allies to fight the epidemic of sexual violence on our campuses. Because no one should ever be forced to carry this weight alone.