At Columba University, Emma Sulkowicz carries around a plastic, extra-long twin sized mattress to show her anger and disappointment with administration for their poor response after she had reported being raped by a fellow student. Sulkowicz had been having consensual relations with Paul, a former friend, until the night he forcibly raped her after she had repeatedly told him to stop and struggled from his hold. Today, Paul walks around campus with no guilt, while Sulkowicz heaves a mattress around to signify her burden as a now rape survivor. Ivy League schools have been known to keep their internal problems as quiet as possible to avoid bad press. In order to protect their reputation, they sacrifice justice to survivors of sexual assault.
At The College of New Jersey, students and administration are working to prevent these types of crimes, but also take proper action after they occur.
“Sexual assault is always questioned before it is believed, which is the most alarming aspect of it,” says Emily Montagna, Junior Class Council President at TCNJ.
Montagna also recognizes that TCNJ is a very different setting because it is a smaller school. However, she maintains that administrators should take situations of sexual violence as serious as any other offense.
On September 27th, TCNJ hosted their third annual SlutWalk. This protest is designed to remind students and community members the importance of fighting against rape culture and discrimination. With roaring chants and attention grabbing posters, the SlutWalk invites everyone to become activists no matter how much you know about sexual violence. However, with it its provocative nature, how does administration feel about this kind of organized movement?
“Administration probably feels that this event could have seriously hindered their prospective students, if any of them saw it, that’s probably why they did show as much outward support,” Montagna believes. “They don’t even want to think that something like that could happen here, how would parents react to that?”
Getting a straight answer from administration is the true challenge in getting sexual violence to be taken more seriously not only at TCNJ, but also at colleges nationwide. Administrators are reluctant to be at the face of stopping sexual violence because that requires acknowledging that it happens. And by doing this, they are recognizing that the college they are trying to sell is not the utopia it seems to be on paper.
“Having the Blue Lights is a really great way to keep on-campus students safe. But we have a lot of off-campus students here and if anything they need more protection,” said Montagna.
Montagna hopes that administrators take into consideration the safety of all students at TCNJ. Having the knowledge that the college is prepared to protect survivors of sexual assault gives current and prospective students a better sense of safety at school.
“I want to feel even when I’m away from home that there is someone out there who will have my back if anything ever happens,” Montagna admits with crossed fingers.