Group concerned about University handling of sexual assault cases
This past Saturday, students who passed the statue of Justice Louis D. Brandeis on campus were able to see the judge “carrying” a mattress, hung with signs that said “We Support Emma” and “We support all survivors.”
The protest art was the result of a group of anonymous Brandeis students coming out in support of Columbia University senior Emma Sulkowicz who claims to have been raped in her dorm room on the first day of her sophomore year. As a part of her visual arts senior thesis—a performance art piece titled “Mattress Performance” or “Carry That Weight”—she will carry a mattress around campus for as long as her alleged rapist attends Columbia. The group of Brandeis students put the signs and mattress up the night of Sept. 5.
According to the group, by the end of the day, the signs were taken down. Executive Director for Integrated Media Bill Schaller did not respond to requests for comment on the University’s policy for when objects are placed on the Justice Brandeis statue, or why these signs were removed by press time.
According to a Sept. 3 Huffington Post article, two other women came forward and said that they were assaulted by the same student that Sulkowicz accused. However, the accused student was not found responsible for sexual assault by Columbia and still attends the school.
The group of Brandeis students wrote in an email to the Justice that its project reflects one of the rules of Sulkowicz’s project: she cannot ask anyone to help her carry the mattress, although she can accept help if it is offered. “In having Justice Brandeis carry the mattress, we hope to send the message that Emma is not alone; that all survivors, here and everywhere, are not alone,” the group wrote.
In an email to the Justice, the anonymous group connected Sulkowicz’s experiences to the situation of survivors at Brandeis currently. “Our protest art on the Louis Brandeis statue is a statement of how Brandeis continues to fail survivors of sexual assault,” the group wrote. “Survivors on our campus cannot wait any longer for their assailants to be removed so that they no longer have to fear encountering them in the classroom, in a dining hall, or even in their own residence halls. Survivors on our campus can no longer wait for the school to take proactive steps to provide adequate information, resources, and adjudication processes.”
The group noted recent cases that students have been made aware of and wrote that “the ones in which assailants were expelled and removed from campus are few and far between.” The group wrote that it is much more common that accused students are allowed to remain on campus with a no contact order in place to keep them away from survivors.
However, the group added that University Police “have continued to not take enforcement seriously.”
“Recently, senior administrators have announced a few changes to how the issues of sexual violence are addressed, but so far none of them are enough,” the group wrote. “This collective formed because a group of Brandeis students are worried that the administration is more concerned with maintaining a good public image than actually providing support and making meaningful reform.”
The group also expressed concerns about the University’s ability to enforce the policies that will be changed, specifically the changes that have been outlined for the upcoming edition of the Rights and Responsibilities handbook.
“We are apprehensive about the administration’s commitment to making real change instead of merely shuffling around bureaucracy and changing the Rights and Responsibilities handbook,” the group wrote.
The Justice Brandeis statue, the group wrote, “has always been a site where student activists have been able to make politicized statements about the wider world or Brandeis University itself.”
In placing the mattress and signs on the statue, the group wrote that it hopes the University shows support for and stands in solidarity with survivors and “live up to the social justice values we are all so proud of by taking action to ensure that no more of our students are forced to ‘Carry That Weight.’”
As of now, the group wrote that it has no active plans to make any other statements. However, it may plan do so in the future. “[W]e may continue to take actions such as these in the future if they continue to be necessary,” the group wrote.