DePaul Feminist Front hangs positive messages for assault survivors

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DePaul’s Feminist Front sits with a symbol of sexual assault on campuses and invites passerby to hangout. (Megan Deppen / The DePaulia)

DePaul’s Feminist Front sits with a symbol of sexual assault on campuses and invites passerby to hangout. (Megan Deppen / The DePaulia)

Students walking past the quad last week may have noticed a bare mattress propped against a tree with the words “Carry That Weight” taped on it. A nation-wide movement to support rape survivors was brought to DePaul by Feminist Front, not an angry group of girls, but students focused on healing.

“This is a much more healing event than anything,” DePaul senior Ariel Wagner said. “Hopefully we’re bridging that gap or getting somebody to turn their head and maybe think of something that could put them in a better mood.”

The sun raised the temperature and students lounged on blankets in the grass. Between passing periods the sidewalks were busy and students passing by glanced at the mattress and a clothesline strung with positive messages written on colored paper.

“It’s such a nice day,” DePaul senior Emily Beh said. “We’re trying to add some color to the scenery.”

“We’ve been asking people to write any sort of message that they have about self-care or maybe positive words that you would give someone who is struggling with dealing with their sexual assault or something you wish someone would have told you after your sexual assault,” Beh said. “Just lots of positive, happy healing messages. Things like that.

“It’s just been really chill,” Beh said. “A lot of direct action events around sexual assault can be in your face and we’re just hanging out and being a more relaxing place.”

According to the Carry that Weight event website, the demonstration was inspired by Emma Sulkowicz, a senior at Columbia University who was raped in 2013. She reported a male student to the school, who found him “not responsible.” In retaliation, Sulkowicz began carrying her dorm mattress across campus as an endurance performance to symbolize the weight she carries as a rape victim.

“Carrying a mattress with others brings us together to collectively help carry the weight,” the website said. “(The demonstration) shows our continued support for survivors, and our collective commitment to working together toward cultural and community-level change to end sexual and domestic violence.”

“It’s hard to be opposed to a message of ‘we’re here for you, we love you, and we’re here to help you heal,’” DePaul senior Ira Lowy said. “I can’t imagine anyone would be opposed to that message. It’s not confrontational, it’s not angry. It’s a message of universal acceptance and love.”

Members of the Feminist Front at DePaul said they knew students often perceived them as angry and “in your face.”

“I’m fine with us being perceived as angry because in some ways we really are, and we’re rightfully angry,” DePaul sophomore Adina Babaian said. “But I think it’s important to get to why we’re angry and let people know that we’re angry for valid reasons.”

“I think healing is really central to the feminist mission,” Lowy said. “While marches are sites of resistance, they’re also sites of trauma. Our ideal as Feminist Front is to be a group that confronts rape culture but also that provides healing for members. To be straight up, the rate of rape on campuses is atrocious and we’re reaching out to survivors.”

Positive messages hang in the quad to send sexual assault survivors hope and healing. The 2nd annual Carry the Weight event supported survivors on campuses around the U.S. (Megan Deppen / The DePaulia)

Positive messages hang in the quad to send sexual assault survivors hope and healing. The 2nd annual Carry the Weight event supported survivors on campuses around the U.S. (Megan Deppen / The DePaulia)

The Carry the Weight website defines rape culture as “the acceptance and normalization of sexual and domestic violence within a society.”

Rape culture is not only the normalization of negative behaviors around sext and violence, but it is also the perpetuation of inaccurate stereotypes like the exclusiveness of male attackers, attacks committed by strangers and attacks being extremely physically violent.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics, a study of female rape and sexual assault victims between 1995 and 2013 found that more women who were not students were raped compared to women who were students. Student victims were more likely to state that the incident was not important enough to report and fewer than 20 percent of both students and non-students sought assistance from a victim services agency.

The report also estimated an average of more than 31,000 cases of rape and sexual assault per year for female students between 1995 and 2013. While female victims made up 83 percent of all student victims, males made up 17 percent of the total, with more than 6,500 victims annually.

College-aged victims also knew their offender personally in more than 80 percent of the cases.

“I think any direct action springs from witnessing injustice,” Beh said. “That is an inherently anger-provoking thing to see, especially with something that is so prevalent, the high rates of rape on campus, forms of human rights violations.

“We definitely have some very vocal haters out there,” Beh said. “We laugh it off. We think that it’s really funny. But ultimately at the end of the day we’re here to make people feel more safe. And today is a reminder of that.”