Yesterday morning, Columbia activists payed back President Bollinger for the $471 fine incurred during October 29th’s National Carry That Weight Day of Action, albeit in less-than-depositable format. Several students, among them members of No Red Tape, carried a giant mattress to the president’s office emblazoned with a “check” for 471 dollars including the memo “Stop punishing survivors and activists. Be the leader on our side!” The mattress-check snarkily alluded to the dozens of mattresses that were placed in front of Bollinger’s house after the October 29th Carry That Weight rally, for which the group was fined for supposed clean-up fees – and, of course, to Columbia’s ur-mattress, Emma Sulkowicz’s senior thesis art-protest project Carry That Weight.
In response to the perceived insult, several students carried the mattress to Bollinger’s office in the campus’ main administrative building (and how they got a mattress into Low, we’ll never know) and read out loud a letter condemning his lack of response to survivor’s protests over the past semester.
Read the full letter below, which narrates the story better than we could. Columbia’s official responses to other blogs’ requests for comment spouted some unremarkable and empty admin speak, which isn’t even worth copying here. (However, they claimed to have waived the $471 fee. That’s nice, we guess.)
Dear President Bollinger,
On October 29th, hundreds of students gathered in the pouring rain to protest Columbia University’s treatment of survivors of sexual and dating violence. Student activists and survivors organized the rally with Carry That Weight, an organization committed to ending violence on campuses. We marched with mattresses to your house, chanting “Rape culture is contagious, come on Prezbo, be courageous!” We left 28 mattresses on your doorstep, representing the 28 students who filed a Title IX complaint against Columbia, and delivered a list of 10 demands. After months of inaction, we hoped you would take this opportunity to finally step up and address our urgent concerns.
Instead, you threw our mattresses in a dumpster and slapped us with a fine for $471. The mattresses are a symbol of the burdens that survivors struggle to carry with them each day on this campus. This response makes your priorities abundantly clear: You value the reputation of this institution over the safety of your students, and would rather throw out survivors’ pain than acknowledge the harm your administration has caused. President Bollinger, you are making us pay for the trauma that we have endured. This is reprehensible.
Survivors and activists in our community have been calling on you to effectively prevent and respond to sexual and domestic violence for over a year. On April 24th, 2014, 23 students filed a Title IX complaint against this University. In August, 5 more student survivors joined the complaint. Also in August, you released a new GenderBased Misconduct policy without any student input and ignored the policy proposals we wrote at your request. Since then, Emma Sulkowicz’s senior thesis Mattress Project: Carry That Weight has called national attention to the injustices survivors have been forced to carry alone for too long. You have not responded once to this piece, and her serial rapist remains on campus today.
Your administration is still punishing students who commit rape and abuse with merely a slap on the wrist, and failing to provide survivors with the protections and support we need. Our goal is and always has been to work with your office to address these critical concerns. However, if you continue to ignore our needs and retaliate against us for speaking out, students on this campus will remain unsafe, and this conflict will continue to escalate.
Today, we will pay the fine your administration has tried to minimize as a “clean up charge.” But let’s be clear: If this fine went to support the maintenance workers who, under your instruction, did have to carry the 28 mattresses to a dumpster, we would readily pay them. This money will not go to those individuals. (And this is not the first time you have tried to hide behind University workers for your administration’s mishandling of sexual assault.) This is not a cleanup fee, but a punishment for speaking out and it will go into the bank account of a University that has silenced us.
We dragged our mattresses to your home in an act of desperation: We do not feel safe on this campus, and we fear for the students that come after us. There are rapists in our dorms, our dining halls, our libraries. There are survivors dropping out of school because no one is there to support them. We call on you to take immediate action: engage directly and meaningfully with students, and take our demands seriously. When students on this campus are unsafe, we need a President who will take action. When students demand to be heard, we need a President who responds. When the community is in crisis, we need a President who leads. It is time you listen to us and help us make this community safe for everyone. Be courageous President Bollinger, your students need you.
The Columbia students of the Carry That Weight campaign