Student Activists Tote Mattress In Campaign Against Sexual Assault
Megan Lamb carries plenty of weight around campus every day. The Penn State student says she was raped in her dorm room during the summer of her sophomore year, left traumatized by a man she knew.
That metaphorical weight was carried around campus in a physical form on Friday afternoon. A group of sexual violence activists hauled a mattress through the streets of Penn State, the culmination of Sexual Violence Awareness Week at the university.
“We really want to show solidarity for survivors here,” Lamb says. “A lot of people forget that survivors are more than just timely warnings.”
Lamb wants people to recognize that survivors are more than just a statistic or an e-mail warning. The group of approximately 20 activists held posters that read “We Are… More Than Text Alerts” and “Rape Culture Lives Here” as they trekked across campus, despite a chilly drizzle.
Terrance Dowell, a Penn State student who led the pack with a megaphone, said that bystander inaction is one of the largest enablers of sexual violence.
“This is very important to me,” Dowell said. “Being a bystander sounds really airy and weightless. But there are many times when one person could have stepped up and stopped something from happening.”
Columbia University student Emma Sulkowicz sparked a national movement when she began hauling her dorm mattress around campus last year. It was a protest against the university, which found her alleged rapist not responsible. For Sulkowicz, the mattress was a visual representation of the burden she carries every day as a sexual assault victim.
Like Sulkowicz, Lamb said she didn’t receive justice. In fact, Lamb said she was made out to be a criminal, charged with falsifying a report when the police found out that her alleged attacker was a previous sexual partner.
“They asked how I could have been raped if I had sex with him before, even though I had text messages from him where I told him not to come to my apartment,” she said. “I had a whole mess of bruises.”
While Lamb was part of a group effort on Friday, she first brought the mattress carry concept to Penn State on her own last year. She says it helped her recover from a rape that left her with suicidal thoughts.
“It took me a long time to deal with it and I hated myself for a while, because I had sex with this guy before and he left me for dead and threatened to kill me,” she said. “But when I did the first mattress carry, I had so many students, faculty, and alumni reach out to me about their experiences.”
Lamb said that she still struggles with what happened to her, but activism events like Friday’s mattress carry remind her that it won’t always be that way.
“It’s gross and it’s a part of me,” she said, “but my rapist can’t silence me, and I have that.”
Photo: Steffen Blanco/Onward State