On Enacting Allyship to Survivors of Sexual Assault and Domestic Violence

content warning: sexual assault/domestic violence

On October 29, I helped to carry a mattress across Harvard Yard with about six other people. It was the most powerful moment of my week.

As part of Carrying the Weight Together, a solidarity movement inspired by Columbia senior Emma Sulkowicz’s activist art titled “Carry That Weight,” where she carries a mattress everywhere that she goes on campus every day until her rapist is expelled from Columbia University.

Carrying the Weight Together is a movement rooted in Emma’s amazing activism, designed to engage the broader community of a campus in the heaviness of conversations, demonstrations, and meditations on sexual assault and domestic violence. At Harvard, several mattresses were seen this Wednesday. Harvard Consent & Assault Awareness and Relationship Educators organized several “collective carries” during the day, in which individuals were able to participate in an organized mattress transportation in high-traffic areas of our campus. Additionally, Our Harvard Can Do Better coordinated a mattress, and members of Eliot House coordinated a mattress. The far-reaching effects of sexual violence on college campuses became a visual reality on Wednesday as friends of mine wrote their experiences and thoughts on shared mattresses or carried their own.

At least one in five women will be sexually assaulted during her time as a student on a college campus. This doesn’t include non-female-identified survivors, and it’s important to note that reporting rates of sexual assault are extremely low compared to other crimes. \

I have heard too many stories of sexual assault occurring on my own campus. This signifies a need for a culture change driven by students and administrators alike, a move toward norms that don’t allow my friends to be assaulted in dorm rooms or at alcohol-fueled parties, by people they know and strangers alike. Proactive and responsive allyship to survivors, eradication of victim-blaming and slut-shaming, bystander intervention, and tough conversations about how to create community spaces where people feel as comfortable and safe as possible are key to this change that I seek.

We exist on a campus where administrators are working to make change, but change must also come from within the student body. Through collaborative efforts among and between, we can affect positive change for all members of the Harvard community, with the root of this change in the interests of survivors. This is about taking care of ourselves and others. Related to my previous post on solidarity, this is about amplifying the articulated needs and desires of those most affected by rape culture on our campus–survivors. Further, this is about understanding how our identities — as survivors, as women, as people of color, as queer people — are both complicit in and challenging the pre-defined norms of acceptability around sexual assault narratives, guilt, and blame.

I want our campus to be a place where survivors feel safe and comfortable, and where shame does not work to silence their valid and important narratives. I want October 29 to stand in connection with every other day of the year, as days where we critically question our complicity and participation in creating a campus culture that allows all members of our community to belong and exist comfortably.

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