As part of the national Carry the Weight campaign, a group of Colgate women created a series of mattresses decorated with quotes. The campaign is in support of Columbia University student Emma Sulcowicz who carried her mattress around Columbia in an effort to get the student who raped her expelled. Each of the Colgate mattresses also featured the hashtag “#[email protected]” These quotes came directly from the experiences of women here at Colgate, and they are striking examples of the state of Colgate’s sexual climate. The mattresses have certainly drawn attention, but one mattress in particular caught the eyes of Buildings and Grounds due to its explicit language. The mattress read, “I don’t exist to be f*cked. I don’t want to look f*ckable.” The mattress was removed without official notification or reason. According to Colgate, explicit matter is not appropriate in public space, even though the Supreme Court would disagree (Cohen v. California, 403 U.S. 15, 1971). What’s even more problematic than the legal precedent, however, is the lack of uproar surrounding the mattress’ removal. This speaks directly to what the Colgate community thinks about who is to blame in situations of rape or sexual violence. The woman whose quote was written on the mattress, sophomore Nitika Sachdev, said, “I was really confused as to why it was taken down and if it had to do with the use of explicit language … I am just pissed off by how my voice is regulated in a community that is supposed to empower me and be a safe space.” Sachdev’s quote was deemed too vulgar for the quad, and its removal demonstrates what Colgate really cares about. There hasn’t been campus-wide outcry about rape, but as soon as we start to draw attention to rape and how it damages us, Colgate acts to silence us. Since the mattress was removed, at least one other mattress has been vandalized by a large drawing of a penis. That mattress was not removed.
Why was there no outrage regarding the removal of the mattress? The reason behind this is the same reason that the Sexual Climate Forum left people angry, and it is the same reason that the Association of Critical Collegians (ACC) is frustrated with what the Administration has done following the sit-in. Even with all of this activism and protesting, we cannot stop apologizing and conceding. At the Forum, a disproportionate number of people voiced concerns that we can’t “blame all men,” specifically all fraternity men, which left me wanting to tear my hair out. I had a similar reaction at Tuesday’s “Colgate for All” forum when President Herbst, Provost Hicks and Dean Nelson couldn’t stop talking about how excited they were to “work with students towards a better Colgate.” If the sit-in and Sexual Climate Forum were meant to be spaces where we were fighting for change, we shouldn’t be conceding to those who we are fighting.
The most troubling part of Tuesday’s Colgate for All forum happened before it even started. In President Herbst’s reminder email to students and faculty, he wrote, “As part of our Colgate for All initiative, we are pleased to announce our first open meeting to continue productive discussions on the issues of inclusivity, civility and mutual respect.” The words “civil” and “civility” do not appear anywhere in the 21 points provided by the Association of Critical Collegians. The word “civil” appears once on the Colgate for All web-page in a letter from the administration introducing their responses to the 21 points. This is not the first time, however, that the idea of civility was imposed on the movement. In almost every communication from Provost Hicks and President Herbst during the sit-in, they used the phrase “peaceful demonstration” to describe what was happening in the Hurtwitz Admission Center. By constantly proclaiming that the sit-in was peaceful, the Administration was able to assure everyone, including those involved with the sit-in, that everything would be conducted civilly. In doing so, they were not only able to co-opt the movement, but they were also able to belittle what was really happening in Admissions – civil disobedience. The Administration is currently presenting the sit-in as administrative change with limited student input.
A call for civility is not the same as a call for mutual respect. Calling for civility is equivalent to grasping for control. The administration is well aware of what we, as students, are capable of accomplishing. The only way to ensure control of us is to co-opt our movements and to restrict what we are allowed to say, just as they have done with the sit-in and the mattresses. As students, Colgate is not just where we take classes and participate in extracurricular activities; it is also our home. As such, it is our responsibility, if not our duty, to speak out and act out when our home is threatening or unsafe to our peers. We’ve been civil, but to bring about real change, it may be time to be uncivil.