DePaul students participate in ‘Carry That Weight’ campus sexual assault awareness rally

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DePaul students participate in ‘Carry That Weight’ campus sexual assault awareness rally

(Dylan Fahoome / The DePaulia)

(Dylan Fahoome / The DePaulia)

(Dylan Fahoome / The DePaulia)

(Dylan Fahoome / The DePaulia)

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More than 50 students took to the streets downtown Wednesday night in solidarity with Emma Sulkowicz, the Columbia University student whose senior thesis performance piece has inspired action to combat sexual assault.

DePaul was one of more than 130 campuses across the world that participated in the “Carry That Weight” gesture Wednesday. Students from DePaul Feminist Front and FURIE (Feminist Uprising to Resist Inequality and Exploitation), and other student organizations carried a mattress around Pritzker Park modeling Sulkowicz’s action — hauling her mattress around her campus until the student who raped her leaves or is expelled.

“I’m here to support survivors and try and change college policies that punish the victim and support the abuser,” said Laura Springman, a DePaul junior history major and one of the event’s organizers.

Attendees convened in Pritzker Park where they had speakers share goals and intentions for the night and beyond. The march lasted more than half an hour with chants such as “assailant shaming/not victim blaming” and “my body isn’t property/ I’m a human being” garnering attention on Michigan Avenue.

Springman expressed dismay at the new “Consent The D” t-shirt campaign.

“I’m pretty angry,” Springman said about reading that this was the only “student response” to the issue of sexual assault at DePaul.

“I helped plan Take Back the Night this past year, I’m part of ‘The Vagina Monologues.’ I work at The Women’s Center, I’m part of Feminist Front – there’s’ a bunch of amazing organizations on campus that have been working on this longer and I think that it was just really problematic to randomly support these guys that came out of nowhere, that had not approached the organizations already in place at DePaul.”

“And ‘the V if you want to’? Consent is not something you can say ‘if you want to’ (about). Consent is mandatory and I don’t think it’s okay to refer to it in terms of genitalia either because consent relates to non-sexual acts as well.”

Springman met with two of the people behind the t-shirts, saying that one reached out and came to a Feminist Front meeting and was understanding and eager to hear Springman’s opinions and “change things.”

The second person they met with also reached out but “didn’t seem to know much about the topic” which confused Springman. But she offered that he did take “three pages of notes” when they talked.

“I understand that their intentions might be nice but it’s not always intentions – it’s your actions.”

Kara Rodriguez, a junior at DePaul and a member of Feminist Front and FURIE attended the protest. Rodriguez said she attended to support Sulkowicz. She also was troubled by the “Consent The D” shirts.

“Capitalism is not the answer to starting an effective movement on campus,” Rodriguez said.

A friend of hers added, “It’s not a movement, it’s the status quo.”

“Consent The D seeks to capitalize on the suffering of communities that have to deal with white men and this is being run by a white man,” Rodriguez said. “To call this a student-led movement is inaccurate because it’s … a for-profit that takes a profit hit to benefit an organization that doesn’t directly benefit [the DePaul] community.”

“T shirts do not actively combat anything except emptying pockets,” she added.

Following the march, protesters gathered around for an open-mic session following a series of speakers. Many attendees shared personal testimonies of surviving sexual assault and abuse.

A “people’s-mic” call-and-response speech was disrupted when attendees shouted “we are going to fight back.” Upon hearing this, a resident from the park entered the space shouting in retaliation, “fighting is not the correct answer.”

“Violence is a legitimate response in a violent world,” the protesters retorted.

Two police officers came to diffuse the situation as protesters’ words echoed  “you’re taking over our space” and “we didn’t ask for your help.” The resident went on to say that “(women) should cover up, keep themselves closed, keep their legs closed.”

Piercing screams reverberated throughout the park as the event organizers announced on a megaphone, “he’s spouting some (expletive) … so we’re not going to going to (expletive) listen.”

The encounter was particularly resonant for those in attendance as the resident’s rhetoric was representative of a societal and cultural systemic rhetoric that blames the victim and not the perpetrator.

Tears were shed and helping hands were extended in support.

Adina Babaian thought the event went well.

“As painful as some of the stories people shared were, we got to express a lot of joy and love,” Babaian said.

“When we were marching through the streets…I was so amazingly proud of the people marching and I felt such a sense of community and unity that I just couldn’t help smiling and being so peaceful.”

Babaian noted the individual who entered the space and was “antagonistic, saying a lot of victim blaming rhetoric.”

“But I think we did a really good job at basically shutting him down and making him exit our space,” Babaian said.

Springman believes that DePaul is a great place for activism but wants more backing from the administration.

“I think that DePaul is a really amazing place for a lot of activism because of the Vincentian idea of values,” Springman said. “I don’t think that DePaul is fully following through as an institution with talking about Vincentian values.”

“But I think that if they listen and if they change policies or if they at least listen to the dialogue that we are trying to create instead of just saying ‘it’s up to you to create all the dialogue’ – we don’t have all the power … we can’t change the policies. So we need some support from them as well.”

The “Carry That Weight” protest added to a long list of events DePaul students have done to raise sexual assault awareness.