University Students Pay Rape Protest Fine With An Even Better Protest
Columbia University President Lee Bollinger may already be a winner! And what’s his grand prize? Looks like … another round of bad publicity for his school’s terrible track record in handling sexual assault cases!
Back in September, attention focused on Columbia’s sexual assault problem thanks to the actions of one student, Emma Sulkowicz. As you may recall, to protest the fact that her rapist was still walking free on campus, Sulkowicz began carrying her mattress around to all of her classes – to represent the weight on her mind of sharing a campus with her attacker. Sulkowicz was joined by other students, and their silent protest rose to a crescendo on October 29, when 28 mattress were carried to Bollinger’s door and left there: one mattress for each of the 28 Title IX complaints filed against the university for its mishandling of a sexual assault case.
To add insult to literal injury, Columbia issued the protesters a $471 fine for leaving the mattresses somewhere they’d have to be disposed of. As Jezebel reports, yesterday, student protesters delivered a giant and well-deserved middle finger to Bollinger’s door, in the shape of a mattress painted to look like a giant novelty check. The memo field reads, “Stop punishing survivors and activists, be the leader on our side!”
$471 may seem like a nominal fee when it comes to disposing of 28 oversized dormitory mattresses, and it’s not clear exactly how that money is being allocated. But it is interesting that the statement Jezebel got from President Bollinger’s office made note that “the University chose to underwrite the costs of the main campus cleanup.” Despite their attestations that the fine was not a ‘punishment’, the fact that they were willing to absorb the costs of the protest only up to the point where it started to make a serious statement – one that (quite rightfully) got the attention of the national media? Yes, $471 might not be a lot of money to get rid of all those mattresses, which makes me wonder why the university drew the line at sucking up that cost along with the rest of the protest cleanup.
So why draw the line at mattress-stacking? Or really, why draw the line at mattress-stacking, and then claim the fine issued isn‘t intended as a punishment? Because that’s certainly what it looks like from this end. It could have been a $5 fine or a fifty-cent one, and it still would have represented the same sentiment: don’t do this. We don’t want to hear what you’re saying. Don’t make a stir, or you’ll pay for it. Carry some signs around, be ignored. Just accept the terrible status quo.
I’m glad that the brave students of Carry That Weight chose to give as good as they got with this symbolic punishment. I hope that they get the response they’re looking for. And I hope that at some point, protests like these won’t happen any more because they’re no longer needed – not because they were inconvenient to the people in charge.