September 29, 2016

Students carry mattresses around campus to support sexual assault victims

Universities in Canada, Washington DC, London and now Webster Groves have banned together in a national day of action in support of survivors of sexual and domestic assault. Wednesday ,Oct. 29 was national “Carry That Weight Day”, where supporters join together in carrying a mattress or pillows with them for the entire day.

Students from the Webster University Conservatory sat in front of Emerson Library on top of a mattress and couch cushions for about an hour as passing students, faculty and staff stopped to ask about their cause and sometimes those supporters would stop them.

Junior acting major Cassia Thompson was one of the supporters who sat on a couch cushion to help raise awareness for sexual assault and violence.

“I’ve always been angry about (these issues) but I never knew what to do or how to work on it,” Thompson said.

She said with national “Carry That Weight Day” she was able to feel like she was doing something about the issue. The day of action was inspired by a student named Emma Sulkowicz who attends Columbia University.  Sulkowicz is carrying her dorm mattress around campus until a classmate she said raped her is expelled from the school.

Thompson said it should not be much to ask of the University to make its students feel safe at a place where they are investing their time, money and future. She said “Carry that Weight Day” has given her the opportunity to make other students aware of Webster’s current sexual assault policies.

Several changes were made to Webster’s sexual assault policy on Sept. 18 to ensure it was clearer for students in particular, said Maureen Stroer, coordinator for student affairs and the campus judicial officer. The regulations expanded definitions related to consent and alcohol. However, Stroer said the biggest change in the policy dealt with confidentiality.

The policy appointed the Director of Counseling and Life Development Patrick Stack and the Assistant Director Gladys Smith as the only staff members on campus who are not required to report a sexual assault. The policy requires all other faculty or staff member to report any incidents of sexual assault that are brought to their attention. Stroer said it is important for students to be aware of this change.

“They need to be armed with information,” Stroer said. “If they don’t know it, they don’t know it, so whatever we can do to promote that (education) is to their benefit.”

Thompson said this is a step towards creating change but it is not enough. She would like to see a policy implemented that notifies students of sex offenders at the university. A sex offender registry would be the goal, she said, but at least notifying students of sex offenders the students are in classes with or interact with often would make her feel safer at Webster.

Thompson said there is no reason why she should be afraid to speak up about sexual assault or to have an opinion on the issue and that is why joining her classmates for national “Carry That Weight Day” was so important to her.

“I felt like there was no way I could fight it,” Thomson said. “It’s days like today and its taking steps like filing complaints, making meetings and talking about it; It’s those little steps that help change things.”x

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