The Columbia University students who make up the Carry That Weight campaign sure know how to send a message. Unfortunately, it's one the university seems to be continuing to ignore.
Last month, the students were fined $471 in "cleanup fees" after an October protest inspired by Emma Sulkowicz, the Columbia student and rape survivor who has vowed to carry her mattress around campus until her alleged rapist leaves the school. Protestors left 28 mattresses -- one for every Columbia student to join in a federal Title IX complaint against the university for its mishandling of sexual assault investigations -- outside President Lee Bollinger's home. This week, Carry That Weight representatives left an early Christmas gift outside the president's office.
On Monday, a group of student activists carried a giant "check" for $471 -- written on one of the same mattresses used at the October protest -- to Bollinger's office, where they read a letter criticizing his administration for its continued failure to address sexual assault on campus. The letter, which is available in full at Jezebel, calls the fine "a punishment for speaking out" and urges Bollinger to take action:
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. [...]
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.
The students did not receive an immediate response from the university, but Jezebel's Erin Gloria Ryan heard from a Columbia spokesperson. Bollinger's representative denied that the fine was related to the protestors' message.
Watch a video of the protest, including a full reading of the students' letter, below: